Friday, November 05, 2010

This Day Forward

After the pre-arranged signal lets her know the wedding is ready to begin, the organist nods. Family and friends stand and turn toward the aisle. I smooth down the front of my dress shirt. Several pairs of eyes are focused on me and, for a moment, I consider leaving from the side door.

But, it's too late to run.

As the music begins, I look down the aisle and our eyes meet. She smiles and I can tell that, while undeniably happy, she understands how I feel today. I appreciate this acknowledgment. Her father looks at me and leans down to whisper into her ear, and she nods as they continue their measured steps toward the altar and away from me.

My friends laughed and called me a delusional romantic when first I told them I wanted to marry her after I returned from our third date. It did not take too long for her to know she did not feel the same. She became a good friend, though eventually it was a roommate who took my place in her wedding dreams.

The music fades and the organist folds her hands on her lap and watches along with us as the minister steps forward, ready to begin the ceremony. When he asks, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” I wait until I hear her father speak.

“Her mother and I do,” he says with firm voice.

“I do, too,” I whisper.

I promised I would stay, but I can't help it. I leave without looking back at her standing at the altar with her husband.

© 2010 Marisa Birns

Friday, October 29, 2010

Leg Man


He loved the feel of silk stockings. Seamed. Preferably black.

Whenever his fingers brushed the full length of long limbs, he shuddered when reaching that spot where the lace at the top of the stocking met the flesh of thigh. Moments later, after he watched them rolled gently downward and shaken off the tips of toes to the floor, he liked to draw a line up the back of calves with his tongue. 

The lovely young women were allowed only one night with him.

But this early evening duty summoned, and he had to leave for a little while. Before locking the door to the cool, dry, well-ventilated room he called his gallery, he stood before a vertical glass container titled Number Six. It showcased the glorious legs that had belonged to his most recent conquest, their length sheathed in silky sheer darkness with straightened seams and preserved in formaldehyde.

With a shaky hand he reached out and touched the glass, and traced a line up the calves with his fingers.

He could not introduce any of them to his family. They would not want to understand.

“Oh, there you are, dear.” His mother looked up from the table as he entered the dining room and greeted the waiting guests.

“Sorry.” He kissed her cheek and pulled out the chair at her right and sat.

“I was finishing my latest piece and . . .”

“Don't worry, dear,” his mother interrupted and patted his arm, “I've made sure no one took your favorite part.”

She held out the platter of roasted chicken and he speared a drumstick. He planned to eat quickly and return to his apartment. Though his mother would narrow her eyes and make those annoying tsk sounds to show her displeasure with such a short visit, he knew she would not keep him from his business. He was an artist, after all, and she always supported his need to follow when the Muse beckoned.

Later that evening, as he walked out of his home to patronize unfamiliar haunts and find fresh material for Number Seven, he left a new pair of stockings on the bed.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Brewing

The unique aroma of mild-flavored coffee. He'd bring me some before leaving for work as I lay on his side of the bed. Awake but with eyes closed, I'd wait until he placed the porcelain cup of Blue Mountain regular roast - milk no sugar - on the nightstand before I sat up and gave him my best good morning and thank you smile.

On the mornings we were angry, the routine was the same, except there would be civil greetings but no smile.

The styrofoam cup of tepid coffee – sugar no milk – sat untouched in front of me as I listened to the neutral mediator work through all the issues my soon to be ex-husband and I needed to resolve.

“Because you share the same base of information, it will take less time to negotiate something that makes sense to both of you,” the mediator said after he invited us to sit down at the conference table in the center of his office.

It took one hour. We were married for a short time and there were no children to share.

Today, I sat in the coffee shop near my office and saw him walk by with her, his arm around her shoulder and throwing back his head as he laughed at her words.

I wondered if she waited on the bed for that first cup of coffee or if she sat with him at the table after serving him breakfast.

“Do you want a refill?” The waiter stood at my right and held the carafe over my cup.

I nodded and while he poured the hot water into my cup, I asked for a fresh teabag.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What the Doctor Ordered

When she arrived at the hospital, he was still in the intensive care unit.

Seven days since an ambulance brought him writhing with the pain of an intestinal blockage.

Five days since the operation that cut away the small section of knotted obstruction.

Two days since a nurse snapped an oxygen mask over his nose and parted lips. She explained he needed the assistance; he was a “mouth breather” and his shallow inhales did not feed his lungs.

One day since he looked at her with eyes narrowed in disapproval.

“If you came earlier, I could have gone home with you,” he said and pointed a tremulous index finger at her. “You missed the window of opportunity. I know it was on purpose.” He turned his head away from her.

Though she tried many times during each visit, no amount of cajoling or explanation could disabuse him of the notion that nurses hated him and waited for family to leave before a daily ritual of torture. Doctors told her confusion and paranoia were normal in patients his age – after all, he was still under the influence of disorienting painkillers.

After several hours of sitting and watching him sleep, while listening to the whirls and pings of machinery taking care of his bodily business, she stood.

“Leaving?” he said after pulling the mask from his face. So he was feigning sleep, she thought.

“I'll be back tonight,” she said.

“Don't bother if you're not prepared to take me away from here.”

She kissed his forehead and helped him put the mask back on his face. He closed his eyes and did not say goodbye.

As she left the unit, she nodded to the hospital staff who looked her way. Torturers? She smiled at the thought. Tonight she would return and listen to his complaints and know they were fueled by irrational fears that he was never going home.

Always was a bit of a diva – for a man, she thought and laughed.

She walked the maze of halls that were very familiar to her now and stepped out into the sunshine.

Upstairs, the torture continued.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Alfresco

If you encounter a grizzly, do not run.

That's what Andy had told Sylvia and the others a year ago as they sat around a campfire on their first weekend together in the woods. They were drinking, laughing, and telling ghost stories when Andy interrupted with this unexpected proclamation.

Sylvia looked around quickly, worried she would see a 400-pound mama bear waiting for dinner. Andy smiled and patted her back.

“The most sensitive part of the bear's anatomy is the nose,” Andy continued, and took Sylvia's hand and molded it into a fist. He told them that throwing the hardest punch one could manage right in the center of its nose would send a bear running away in pain. Sylvia laughed at the image, but Andy shook his head and looked somber. The others stared at their hands.

“I remember reading about this guy who saved his life that way,” Andy said while he stroked Sylvia's  arm and stared at the fire.

“He described it like hitting a bag of thawed hamburger.”

No one said anything.

Andy looked up. “Okay, fine, let's talk about something else,” he said, and laughed as he lifted his hands in mock surrender.

“This round's on me.” He went to the cooler for more beer.

Now, after a year of many weekends spent in tents in the woods with Andy and their friends, Sylvia felt comfortable with the inconveniences - and joys - of camping.  As usual, while Andy left for a last visit to the latrine, she spread out the double sleeping bag after packing for the drive home the next day. She was thinking about the appointments she needed to make back in the city when she became aware that the other campers were shouting. What she heard dried up her saliva and made her legs wobble.

“A bear! There's a bear!”

Don't scream or yell. You'll only aggravate the grizzly, Andy had said that first night, ignoring teasing questions about what to do if a ghost attacked.

Not breathing properly, Sylvia pressed both hands across her mouth when she heard Andy's high-decibel cries of fear and pain, cries that ceased after a few moments. Pale and queasy, she could not stop her horrified shout of “No!” as her head turned toward the sounds of snorting and huffing outside their tent.

She regretted packing the cast iron skillet.

As she waited for what might come, Sylvia raised a trembling hand and made a firm fist, thinking of chopped meat.


© 2010 Marisa Birns 


Friday, September 03, 2010

Bearing Gifts

I'm as ready as I'll ever be, Molly thought as she looked in the hall mirror and brushed back a strand of hair from her forehead. Although she had to beg, Charlie agreed to share a drink with her and was coming over.

“For the last time,” he warned her when they spoke on the phone that morning.

Molly decanted the wine in the kitchen and poured a glass to drink while she waited. When the doorbell buzzed, she shivered and went to let Charlie inside.

Each was on their best behavior after the initial awkwardness of their hellos. When Molly offered wine after a few minutes of small talk, Charlie smiled and nodded. “Be right back,” she said as she placed her glass on the coffee table and went to the kitchen.

“I know I can't change your mind about us, and I'm sorry about that,” she called out as she poured the wine and opened the drawer to her small desk. “I just hope we can be friends at some point?” She sighed as she took out the vial of Everlasting Love Trap potion. Two drops.

“Um. Yeah. If you would want to be just friends, why not.” Charlie answered as he took a miniature cellophane envelope from his pocket and leaned forward. Two shakes of the odorless, colorless, flavorless granules dissolved quickly in Molly's glass.

Earlier, an aged man at a rundown shopfront took his money and promised Charlie that in only a few days, the Repel Thee Forever powder would dissipate Molly's inconvenient attraction to him, never to be stoked again. A goodbye gift from Charlie. No sense in having her suffer needlessly, he thought.

Molly returned with his glass. Charlie stood and stretched his hand to her. She gave him the goblet and let her fingers linger on his for a moment before she let him go. He smiled and lifted the glass slightly above his head and waited for her to pick up her own from the table. They faced each other.

“What should we toast?” Molly asked. “To friendship?”

“Well, let's see.” Charlie said. He thought about the luscious Anita waiting for him at the bar. “May all our wishes come true. How about that one?”

Molly nodded. “Perfect,” she said and raised her arm.

They clinked their glasses and laughed for a moment before they each drank deeply.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Yin and The Yang of It

Kathleen is my opposite in looks and temperament. I have dark hair and mahogany eyes. Kathleen’s Irish eyes are cerulean and she was born a redhead.

“A true redhead,” she would tell new friends, “all you have to do is look at my…”

We usually interrupted here because we understood that Kathleen did not censor herself, did not feel the need, did not get embarrassed about using such words as hoo-haw in front of a stranger.

Reserved and hating to be the center of attention, that's me. But Kathleen knew how to break the draconian rules the nuns imposed without ever getting caught. The girl who could say things the rest of us could not because we thought the world -  as we knew it - would end.

Everything is described larger, better, longer in her world. She told me when she met her future husband at a party, it took just "one look" before they kissed for three hours.

“It was only fifteen minutes,” her husband said.

My shyness troubled her. Once, while on a shopping trip with us, her husband modeled a pair of trousers too small for him. We tried not to laugh.

"I just need exercise, dammit," he said and people turned their heads to us.

I walked across the aisles to allow Kathleen time to tell him that thinking is not the same as doing. But, really, I was pretending not to be here with those two.

A saleswoman came to help and he complained he did not need "two wives telling me what to do.”

From across the room,  Kathleen winked at me. I worried.


"You need to listen to us or there won't be any sex tonight," she told him.

Handing him a larger size, the nonplussed saleswoman looked over to me. She called out that “the second wife should come and have a look.”

Shoppers stared as I tried to hide in an empty dressing room.


Through the years, Kathleen’s dinner parties were never oh-I-just-will-throw-something-together affairs, and her telephone invitations held breathy promise of something themed.

“Sister,” she said during one of those calls, “Please come to my loggia party!”

So on a balmy August evening, we sat beside a mural of an ancient Tuscan scene she painted that morning. A group of male friends walked up the driveway dressed in white toga-like outfits. They carried a pallet where Ferret Bob, called that not because he resembled one but because he owned thirteen of the mammals, perched regally, with silver-plated leaves festooning his head and silver makeup highlighting his face in the twilight.

I looked over at some friends and knew we shared this thought: How on earth can we invite Kathleen over to just…dinner?

Kathleen dyed her hair to a golden blonde sheen that day. It suited her. While chatting new guests brought by friends, Kathleen told them she wanted to travel to Ireland to meet relatives, when the talk inexplicably turned to beauty products.

“Oh, no,” I heard her say. “This is not my natural hair color. No. I am a redhead. A true redhead.”

She stopped, and turned to me, and waited. I stood a few feet away talking to the toga boys. I cleared my throat and said, “She can prove it. All you have to do is look at her hoo-haw.”

Kathleen smiled. The world did not end.

© 2010 Marisa Birns


Note: A year ago today,  I wrote my first fiction piece for #fridayflash. This is it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

It's All In The Cards

She stopped reading and rubbed her eyes.

“Is that it?” she said, and sighed and shook her head when her assistant pushed five more envelopes across the desk. Part of the job, she thought. The hard part.

As Director of Admissions at an elite college, she spent many long days sharing coffee and discussions with her team. There were too many qualified teenagers with similar credentials vying for the limited available spots still unfilled. Now, she needed to make final decisions on this last batch of applications left in the Yes or No pile.

Opening the next envelope, she read the name on the cover letter. “Ah, a male applicant,” she said. “We need more males to balance the freshman class.” Her assistant nodded and wrote in a notepad.

The letter consisted of eight sentences: My transcript shows I am an excellent student and more than capable to continue my studies in a stringent college environment. All awards, civic activities, inclusion in sports teams, summer employments, and teacher recommendations are attached as well.

As for my personal essay, when I was in first grade, my teacher had us write on note cards as part of an assignment. We had to say something we admired about our fellow students. Enclosed are the cards written about me. They were true then. They still are. Thank you for your consideration.

She shook the envelope, and a confetti of brightly colored laminated cards fell onto her desk. She glanced at her assistant, who held out her hands palm side up and shrugged her shoulders. Spreading them as if playing a game of solitaire, she looked at each one.

-Brian is smart and reads lots of books.

-He is fun and loves to sing.

-Brian knows lots of big words.

-He is kind and knows how to fix things.

-Brian helps anyone. Even if he doesn't like you.

-He brings good snacks. He shares his lunch if you forgot to bring one.

-He is good at sports. And wins!

And this one from his teacher: Brian is a leader.

She read all the rest, and put them and the supporting documents back in the envelope. Placing it on the small pile on the right side of her desk, she looked at her assistant, who smiled and handed her another one.

© 2010 Marisa Birns

Friday, August 13, 2010

Full Circle

He sat on the bed rubbing her back.

She moaned, then cried softly as she usually did when he touched her now.

When she was pregnant with their first child all those years ago, he would move his young hands and firmly press down and circle that spot in the small of her back.

Yes, right there, she would say, exactly there - but more slowly, please.

So he would slow his stroke and circle and caress until she fell asleep. In the morning, she would kiss him awake.

It was the same when the passing years brought two more children.

When she once told him not to bother waking up for her, he said he did not mind, that they married for better or for worse, and his rubbing her back was meant to make it better.

It does, she said.

Tonight, the oncologists came up to him as he paced in the family waiting room and told him again that all they could do now was to make her comfortable until the inevitable. They urged him to go home to rest for a while, but he shook his head. He turned to his daughter and sons and asked them to go home to their spouses and children until tomorrow.

After they left, he went to her private hospital room to sit with her for another night.

I can't do this anymore, he said now as he listened to her tears while he moved his age-speckled hands and gently pressed down with fingers that slowly circled and lightly caressed that spot.

She stopped crying.

No, don't say that.

But it hurts you, he said.

It does.

I only want to make it better, he told her, and lifted his hands to wipe his eyes.

I know, she said.

Later, she watched him sleep beside her. At least for another night, she fought her body's command that it was time to go.

In the morning, she kissed him awake.


© 2010 Marisa Birns

Friday, July 23, 2010

Memento Mori

The doctor read aloud: The RNA extracted from the formalin-fixed brain tissue identified a viral variant in the nucleotide sequence-

“Please,” Ann interrupted. “What is it?”

He looked at the mother of his eight-year-old patient with compassion evident in his heavy-lidded young eyes and shook his head. “It's rabies,” he said after a exhalation of breath, and watched as she hunched forward and brought one hand to her mouth while gripping the metal arm of the chair with the other.

Rabies?

Several weeks after her daughter returned from a happy vacation at her best friend's summer  house in the mountains, she complained of pain in the knuckles on her left hand. Ann had not wanted to let Janie go, but the other girl's family promised to take very good care of the children. Since Ann's childhood summers had meant working on the family farm and her adult summers as a single parent now meant working long hours in a hot city, she pushed aside her worries and agreed to let her daughter spend the two weeks with them. Janie had shouted “Yessss!” and hugged her before running to phone her friend with the good news. Ann smiled as she heard Janie laughing and discussing possible activities. Apparently swimming and telling ghost stories were part of “Plan Fun.”

Rabies?

The throb in Janie's hand progressed to acute pain and infection throughout her body and later, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, and depression. Alone at home, Ann lay awake night after night while Janie's doctors treated one possible diagnosis after another. Hopeful one moment, despairing in the next when the day's remedies proved false.

“You will need post exposure prophylaxis immediately,” the doctor said, and walked over to help her get up from the chair.  “But...there is nothing we can do to stop the disease for her. I am so very sorry.”

Ann stood and brushed her hands against her silk skirt, smoothing down the pleats. She looked at the doctor's hand stretching to touch her shoulder and turned away. “I know it's not a diagnosis anyone wants to hear,” he said as he lowered his hand and tapped the file on his desk.

“Never.” Ann walked out into the hall and left the door open behind her.

“Goodbye, Mommy!” Janie said all those weeks ago as she ran to the car and climbed in the backseat where her friend waited. She looked out the window and waved. “Don't be sad. I'll bring you back a present. I'm not going away forever, you know,” and blew a kiss to her mother, who put out her right hand in a pantomime of catching and rubbing it against her cheek. 

Rabies.

Ann now leaned her forehead against the door to Janie's hospital room, where she lay in a coma, and did not wipe her eyes before she went to the nurse's station to receive the first in a series of injections.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fabulous Flash Award

I am so grateful to the lovely and wonderful Karen Schindler for her bestowal of the Fabulous Flash Award, an idea Jon Strother had that would, in his own words, "spotlight some folks I feel deserve recognition for their, well… fabulous flash fiction."

So, many thanks Karen . . . and Jon!


Now I must pass it on to four writers. With great delight, here is my list:

Sam Adamson whose writing just captivated me from his very first flash story. His ongoing serial has fairies, pixies, gnomes, and an esoteric bookstore all set in a northern town in the United Kingdom, and it is just a treat to read.

Marc Nash  is another gifted writer from the UK. He is a wordsmith of the highest order. It's all about the language with him. His stories are lush, at times lyrical, at times dark, and always leaves one feeling sated with the fecundity of the read.

Tony Noland is not afraid to experiment in his writing. I'm happy to say that whether it is science fiction, noir, love story, horror, etc., Tony's work is a strong example of excellent writing.

Jen Brubacher As she says in her bio, she's a librarian who writes fiction. What better combination, no? She's a wonderful writer whose flash fiction spans genres, and I look forward to reading anything she writes. She's that good!

Please take some time to visit these wonderful writers. I can assure you that you will enjoy their fabulous flash fiction!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Gratuitously

Martha Frick sat on the edge of the yellow and orange flower-patterned chair Billy bought for five dollars at a yard sale and waited to accept condolences from the handful of mourners. The very chair where Billy was sitting when the stuffed and mounted moose head broke away from the wall and struck and killed him.

She closed her eyes. “Look,” Billy had said one evening not long ago after he called her in and pointed up at his newest acquisition.

“It looks great, doesn't it? And the guy at the flea market didn't charge for it. Just gave it to me on account of my being a good customer.”

He took her hand. “The chair will look real good under it. Help me push it.”

Martha frowned and pushed him away.

“I'm tired of all the junk you bring home!”

Her husband just smiled.

“Junk? You may think so, but remember that one man's junk is - ”

“Another man's treasure. I know, Billy,” she said, and went to find the pillow and blanket for him to use for when he slept on the sofa.

Until they moved from the city to the rural fishing town of his birth, Billy held a mid-level job in a government agency. Retirement brought them permanently to his childhood home. Martha volunteered at the nursery school; Billy spent his days treasure hunting.

Now, sitting and waiting for this day to end, she shook her head no when her daughter asked if she wanted something to drink. Martha looked around the room, at every available surface crowded with other people's unwanted detritus. She nodded when her son asked if she was ready and prepared herself as each mourner, in turn, approached, took her hand, and murmured words they thought would comfort.

“He will be missed, you can be sure of that.”

“Billy Frick was a good man.”

“Let me know if you need me to do anything for you.”

Reverend Hopwood was the last to lean over her. “We must remember that God works in mysterious ways,” he said as he squeezed her shoulder, but flushed in embarrassment when Martha laughed.

She did not expect to see any of them again. In several days the moving company would bring her things back to the city. The truck from the thrift shop would take the rest, including the screwdriver she last used to loosen the screws holding the bracket of the mount.

Friday, July 02, 2010

When In Rome


Louis emerged from the Men's Room in the restaurant to hear his mother exchanging private telephone numbers with someone she met only scant hours ago.

“Please do call,” he heard her tell the woman whose name he could not remember. Something to do with Switzerland, he thought. Or was it nature?

“Let us go now, shall we?” He coaxed his mother as he helped her into her coat and nodded his goodbye to the woman. Berne? Oh, no. Fern. Her name is Fern. Nature, then.

He led his mother to the front door and before she stepped over the threshold, she turned to smile at her new friend.

“I've been told I give good phone.” she said and laughed before Louis grasped her hand and led her away.
 
The car ride was a quiet one, as usual. Louis glanced at his mother when he stopped at the last light before home. She moved her lips in silent conversation. Probably speaking to Father again, he thought and surprised himself by a fluttery bitterness he felt in his chest. It never was difficult for her to talk with Louis when he was a child. But as the years added growth, departure, and distance to her life, they also subtracted her ability to verbally demonstrate easiness with her son. She became shyly hesitant with the adult model. Now, after bringing her to live with him after she had escaped from the retirement center several times, their talks more closely resembled light, impersonal banter.
 
As he lay reading in bed later that night, Louis heard his mother laughing. Another talk with Deidre, he guessed. While pleased that his mother harbored friendship for his ex-wife, he never understood how anyone could speak for hours on the phone and enjoy it.
 
“Goodnight, dear,” he heard her say, then all was quiet.
 
Louis placed his reading glasses on the nightstand and leaned over to turn off the light. He settled into his pillows and closed his eyes. But moments later, his mother's soft pacing in her bedroom on the second floor interrupted the languid touch of his relaxation, and he sat up and turned on the light.
 
It's one of  those nights
, he thought.
  
Louis reached for his bathrobe, intent on going to his mother's room with tea and sitting with her in silence until she tired.
  
However, after looking across the room at the telephone on his desk, he shook his head. He left the bathrobe folded at the foot of the bed and walked over to his favorite chair.
  
His mother picked up on the second ring.


Picture courtesy of Cute and Cool BlogStuff

Friday, June 11, 2010

Wet Foot, Dry Foot

That day, Beba and her daughter Maria jumped into the water to save their lives.
 
Caught between the demands and stipulations of two nations, they swam the last few yards to reach the beach on the Florida shore, eager to have their wet feet touch dry land, as required by the rules of an international game. If the United States Coast Guard had intercepted the boat they used to escape their homeland, they would be forced to return there – and to certain punishment. Managing to reach land ensured the chance to remain in the country and to qualify for expedited legal permanent resident status.
 
They made it safely that day of fear but no incidents and, despite knowing they were leaving many friends and family behind, they never regretted that decision.
 
Since their arrival two years before, Beba and Maria made a home with Uncle Mario and his family in Washington, D.C. They were happy; they were safe.
 
On the first warm day of one summer season, Uncle Mario took them and a group of friends on a hike along the Potomac River. Later, and no one could explain why, Beba slipped and fell.
 
Maria jumped into the water to save her mother's life.
 
“The calm surface is deceptive,” the fire chief said days later after the bodies were finally spotted and retrieved. “The river's currents are deadly, more so than ocean riptides. You can go down in seconds.”
 
Though it is illegal to enter the area from the park land and there are safety signs posted on both sides of the river in several languages, including Spanish, many people choose to ignore all warnings.
 
Uncle Mario will always regret that decision.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Barkeep

Weekend vampires, they called themselves. Every Friday night, after throwing the vestiges of conventional daily life to the bottom of closets, they donned black and red clothing, painted dark circles around their eyes, and snapped custom-fit fangs over their cuspids. All necessary to join the role play in the edgy back room of The Coffin Club.

He leaned against the cash register and watched the couple who moved to the shadows in the corner of the room. He tried to look away from the thin slice of razor cut against the willing participant's wrist, but could not. He parted his lips slightly and ran his tongue along his bottom lip, keeping his eyes on the blood.

“Hey, bartender!”

Startled and annoyed, he turned to the young man who interrupted his reverie.

What do you want, you damned fool?

That's what he ached to say. But he knew this job required a semblance of polite customer service, so he kept this thought to himself. He leaned forward and waited.

“Two Bloody Vampires,” the young man said, and put money on the bar.

As he prepared the drinks, the bartender knew he would not return tomorrow. While always working the late shifts at similarly themed bars across the country suited his nocturnal lifestyle, he never stayed too long in one place. Recently, though, he found himself thinking more about returning to his country. It was familiar and easy there. Also, while the other members of his family had allowed him to travel abroad and sample life in another culture, he knew that being away for much longer would not please them.

He placed the drinks in front of the young man and watched him take the hand of the girl seated at the next stool and suck her bloodied thumb before they clinked glasses in a toast.

He shook his head and looked at the others, many of whom were drunk on alcohol and fantasy.

Ridiculous, this business of playing games of dress up and spending weekends pretending to be doing something considered erotic and mysterious.

He laughed.

I wish I had that luxury.

He nodded to the people who called to him and requested drinks, and went to fill their orders.

Though he was centuries older than his regular clientele, spending time with them had been such fun. It only remained to decide whom he would kill before he flew home to the nest forever.

After all, he was thirsty too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Rufus Bent

Leaves sprouted from his fingers and his feet had taken root to the ground when he woke up in his recliner.  However, Rufus Bent was not alarmed. Though his family argued that he was too old and feeble to live alone anymore, he always knew he would stay on the land that once belonged to his granddaddy.
 
“Of course, never thought it'd be quite this way,” he said as he looked down at his trunk and gnarled knees.
 
The family was in the kitchen, but Rufus did not call out to them. When they left him to nap earlier, he expected they would pass the time arguing. From what he could hear, they still were.
 
“I don't care what Daddy says; he's going to that home! It's a good place. He won't get better care.” This from his son.
 
Rufus laughed. I ain't going nowhere now, he thought as he moved the branch that was his right arm.
 
He had already refused his daughter's offer to live with her in the city. He told her he wanted to go to sleep at night hearing the familiar and beloved sounds of the backwoods, not the blasts and clatter of urban life which never welcomed him when he visited those few times.
  
“Maybe we can find someone else to come and stay with Daddy,” she now said to her brother. “Someone who doesn't know him.”
  
Don't worry, baby angel. Won't be long now. I won't need a nurse. Maybe a gardener? He cackled, as happy as he could be under the circumstances.
  
A few minutes passed before his children walked into the room. Though he could no longer see them, he heard their gasps and cries.
  
“I don't believe this,” his son said. “He's gone.” 
  
No, I'm here, son, right where I belong. Rufus struggled to say more. Can you hear me? You'll always find me here.
  
There was no more he could do for them. As his last thoughts faded along with his voice, he hoped they would make common sense arrangements.
  
While his sister cried and dialed the phone, her brother reached over and closed his father's eyes.
  
“He looks so peaceful. Like he's asleep,” he whispered.
  
He pulled the blanket from the sofa and covered his father's body. His daddy always hated to be cold.
  
*  *  *
  
Note: The first line comes from a #storystarters prompt.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tomorrow

In the middle of the night, when her sleep was interrupted, Ella awoke to her grandmother's arms lifting her from the bed and leading her downstairs. Her questioning murmurs elicited only sshhhs from her Grammy. But, she could hear her father not being quiet at all.
 
“She's dead? You're lying!” His shouts came from the living room.
 
“Son,” Grammy called out, “Don't trouble the doctor none.”
 
When they reached the room and Grammy sat her on the sofa, Ella looked at her father, who was cradling a bloodied hand as he paced in front of the fireplace, the hearth covered by shards of the green Depression glassware her mother once collected.
 
“Mama is resting in heaven,” she whispered, and was surprised when he stopped.
 
“And I am going to hell,” he said, with a look to the doctor.
 
He left the room, taking a bottle of whiskey with him.
 
While Grammy accompanied the doctor to the front hall, their voices low and their sentences too adult for Ella to decipher, she stood and walked to the window.
 
“There are no stars up there,” she said. “How can I make a wish tonight?”
 
Grammy returned and stared at her grandchild, her eyes wearied by age and fear and tears.
 
“You don't really need them for that, honey,” she said.
 
Ella shook her head. She knew her grandmother wanted her father to be sent away to the special hospital. Too many times now he did not remember that mama had been dead for months. Skull fracture from accidental fall, according to the coroner's report.
 
She could not forget because she saw her die.
 
That's why Grammy woke her, then. To say goodbye to Daddy.
 
Ella wiped her tears and walked to her grandmother.
 
“Maybe I'll see them tomorrow,” she said.
 
“Yes, child.” Grammy kissed the top of her head. “There's always tomorrow.”
 
However, no matter how many she wished upon, the stars would not alter the truth that it was Ella who had pushed her mother to her death.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Minstrel

It was always at the corner of the west side of the street where she went to sing. Every Monday morning at 7 a.m., while I sat drinking the first of many coffees of the day, I would see her. She would shuffle in her backless slippers to the entrance of the train station. She never looked at anyone, just walked with her head down as she moved to the left foot, right foot, do it all again beat until she reached the stool the news vendor had placed under the awning for her use. A guitar accompanied her musical notes of protest. They were Vietnam-era songs that baffled some of the commuters rushing to get to work.
 
“Make love, not war.” She would tell anyone this mantra of her long-ago youth as they tried to give her  coins, which she refused. She, in turn, would hand out little slips of paper imprinted with a drawing of the peace symbol and smile whenever I took one, though I never stayed to hear the music. All I wanted was to look at her face before I went to work. I could not explain why but her serene blue eyes offered a cooling antidote to the anxious start of my work week.
 
On a day I was to leave for vacation, I stayed and waited for her to finish her song.
 
“Here,” I tried to press money into her hands. “I really want you to have this.”
 
She shook her head and tugged at the tie-dyed cotton blouse she wore.
 
This upset me. “Don't be crazy anymore. Please. There are other things to worry about. Vietnam is over. There is no war!”
 
She lifted her guitar and strummed the opening notes to a Bob Dylan tune.
 
“There's always something,” she said, and sang her song, blowing out the message to the wind.
 
Not many weeks later, she was dead. Mugged by someone who most likely thought the frail woman  wearing the colors of the rainbow and singing of peace and love was an easy mark to rob, though he must have been surprised to find papers of the non-monetary kind in her pockets. The person did not even take the guitar – just left its splintered remains next to her body.
 
For several days, the community placed wreaths at the site of her last breaths and made plans.
 
It's my turn to join the neighborhood watch group that will patrol the streets tonight for several hours - veritable soldiers in the fight against crime. She might be pleased to know this. Though it probably would sadden her that we were not making love.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mother’s Day – Twitter Chats Blog Tour


Welcome to the Twitter Chats Blog Tour, organized by Mari Juniper at Mari's Randomities and Anne Tyler Lord at Don't Fence Me In

Today's theme is Mother's Day.

You'll be traveling with us through the blogs of some of the fantastic authors and writers who participate in our weekly -- funny, entertaining and educating -- Twitter chats. This tour will feature writers from #writechat, #litchat, and #fridayflash.

You will be directed to your next stop at the end of this post. Please feel welcome here. Happy Mother's Day!

~~~~~~~ 

Never Too Old
by Marisa Birns

Ellen Newman did not expect to be stuck in an elevator with her mother. But here they were, somewhere between the third and fourth floors in Aunt Judy's building. Her mother, of course, knew about Ellen's discomfort of being confined in small spaces, so she tried to distract her.

“Now, it's supposed to be my surprise party, but honestly, has your father ever been able to keep a secret from me?” She laughed. “Do you remember when – ”

“Mother. Please don't. It's not helping.”

Ellen sat on the floor and hugged her knees. Fortunately, the phone in the control panel worked, so the doorman knew about their predicament and promised it would be mere minutes before an employee from the  maintenance office came to help.

“Are you hungry, dear?” Her mother took out an energy bar from her bag.

A shrug from Ellen. “Well, I didn't have lunch, so I guess I could eat something.”

She reached up and took it from her mother, along with the napkin she held out to her.

“I also have a bottle of water we can share.”

“Don't fuss over me. Please.” Ellen said, though she took the water. After a few seconds of thought, she looked up at her mother and patted the space next to her on the floor.

They passed the time remembering funny stories about various members of the family they would see tonight. Though she realized she was enjoying herself, Ellen still could not push away her worriment that it was taking too long for them to be rescued. Her mother noticed. She put her arm around Ellen's shoulders and kept on talking. Moments later, the elevator jolted in movement. “At last!” they said at the same time, and laughed as they helped each other to stand.

Her mother took out a comb from her bag and handed it to Ellen, who sighed before taking it.

“What am I going to do with you?

“Well, you want to look nice at my party, don't you?” Her mother said as she smoothed small creases from her dress. “And, sweetheart, don't forget that I don't know about it.”

As the doors finally opened to the anxious faces of her husband and sister-in-law, she turned to her daughter and offered her hand. They walked out together.

When they entered the apartment and the lights turned on, her mother acted properly startled at the shouts of  “Surprise!” that came from every corner of the living room. But before she moved across the room for hugs, she looked over at Ellen, who winked and blew her a kiss.

“Yes, it was scary. But you know how Mom is.” Ellen said seconds later in answer to someone's question. “She made it all better.”
~~~~~~~

Thanks for stopping by. Your next stop for the Mother's Day Twitter Chats Blog Tour is at Jemi Frasier of Just Jemi

The complete list of participants can be found at the hosts' blogs: Mari Juniper and Anne Tyler Lord

Monday, May 03, 2010

Office Mate

I know her fingers are idle. She tried to write for over an hour but fear prevented that, and now she has run out of time.

“What can help me?” I hear her say. “I am in a pickle here.”

No! There will not be brined cucumber for her as long as I am around. After a few moments I hear it. Ah, she remembers I am stashed in the bottom drawer of the desk. Happy moment for me. She lifts me out and unwraps the foil that keeps my square shape fresh and beautiful.

While I do share the space with coarsely chopped peanuts, and some flakes that I believe would be better suited in a bowl full of milk, I know it is the dark part of me she craves. As I have done many times before, she hopes that the taste of  my silky sweet wash of flavor will energize and inspire her.

After eating half of my chocolate goodness, she looks at the paper. Not a single written word mars its virgin pallor. Was it time to move those fingers?

Not yet. I beckon again. She closes her eyes and takes another bite. I can feel her mmmm of pleasure.

“Are you finished with the report?” Her boss stands in the doorway.

She looks at him and swallows. “The research is taking longer than I thought.”

I always have more work to do.
~     ~      ~    ~   

A new chat can be found at #storycraft on Sundays at 6pm EST. In addition to all the good talk last week, participants were given an assignment: to write a story (300-500 words) from the perspective of an inanimate object.  The above was my contribution.

The founders of #storycraft are @TamaraNKitties @Danisidhe and @IamJaymes 

They share space at  @Story_Craft

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Way of It

Little Joey looked down at the gun held out to him.

“C'mon, take it. I ain't got all night,” Dix said, and poked him in the ribs.

“I can't.” Little Joey kept his hands by his side. “Need more time to figure things.”

Dix laughed. “If you want this, there ain't more time.”

The boys were standing in the shadows of a dilapidated apartment building where Little Joey lived, in a space crowded with siblings and disorder. When his family first moved here from a homeless shelter, he celebrated the positive change to their circumstances. He was able to go to school regularly, and he even earned a little money helping the elderly neighbors in the building carry packages home from the convenience store. Once, after putting beer down on Old Pete's kitchen table, he took out some of his drawings from his backpack to show him, and grinned when Old Pete complimented his talent.

“Yep,” Little Joey said, “I wanna be an artist.”

It was not long, however, before his parents surrendered without a struggle to the familiar ways of drugs and inattentiveness, and his older brother joined a neighborhood gang.

Little Joey stopped going to school, preferring the company of the boys who congregated on the block for most of the day with not much on their schedules except for smoking and killing time until the evening.

“Boy, don't hang out with them losers,” Old Pete had warned. “I know it be hard, but you can get out. Go to school. Learn. Be somethin'.”

But two days ago his brother died in a drive by shooting, and the word on the street implicated a new member of a rival gang fulfilling a rite of initiation. Little Joey spoke about revenge, and the neighborhood boys sent Dix to recruit him to their ranks.

Now, confronted with the stark sight of the weapon in Dix's hand, Little Joey hesitated. He understood he was at a crossroad. One way led to an unknown place where he saw the details imperfectly, the other to a plot in a drama out of his control.

“What's keeping you? Dix asked. “You in or what, man?” .

Little Joey looked up at the windows of his building. His parents had not been home for several days. He saw the lights go out in Old Pete's apartment, then looked at Dix, who smiled and held out the gun again.

There really is no one, he thought.

“We take care of our own kind, yeah?” Dix said.

Little Joey nodded in reply.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Transient

The gentleman sitting across the room has not ordered anything since he arrived at the coffee shop. He is at the table nearest to the window, with the morning newspaper splayed across the table. However, he is not reading, just turning the pages one by one, each time touching his right index finger to his tongue as if he were taste testing the words. What intrigues me is that his head is turned to the ceiling as he flicks the pages.

 I watch for a few moments, then think, “Maybe he is blind.” But he becomes aware of my gaze and slowly lowers his head and turns to look at me, hand still at his lips. Though embarrassed at being caught, I nod and smile. He does not acknowledge my greeting, however, just lowers his eyes and dampens the tip of his finger with his saliva.

As is my usual routine whenever visiting a new city, I prefer to go out for coffee first thing in the morning, finding places not far from my hotel. I like to watch the locals go about their day and hear the cadence of their speech. On this day at this place, I sit at a small table with a red formica top, drinking black coffee in a white mug. The group I travel with is probably gathered in the hotel's ornate dining room, enjoying a breakfast buffet with all the food and unlimited cups of coffee they can swallow in the hour before the meeting.

The job keeps us traveling for many months of the year. The early allure of spending nights away from my hometown lost its fizzle, not unlike a bottle of champagne forgotten overnight and uncorked on the table. While in the morning it may resemble the drink of celebration, the good taste is gone. The job is as flat and warm.

As I finish my coffee, I see the manager of the shop come up to the man. I am not close enough to hear the conversation but can guess he asked him to leave. The man nods and puts on the shabby jacket  folded on the floor beside his chair. He stands, picks up a bag from under the table, and anchors it to his left shoulder by its strap. At the exit he hesitates as if summoning some resolve to go out into the city, then leaves without looking back. There is no tip on the table, of course. Just the opened newspaper, edges marked with the DNA of a nameless person whose story I will never know. Through the window I see him walk away with unhurried gait.

It is time for me to return to my work and colleagues at the hotel.

Later that night, after many hours of trying to fall asleep in one more unfamiliar bed, I think of the man in the coffee shop and decide that while he may be lonely and homeless in one city, I am the same in many.

Friday, April 16, 2010

One Hundred Twenty Minutes

He is naked, immobile, and in searing pain, but refuses to use his safe word. He loves it when she treats him with contempt, when she is willing to push the limits – this is what he pays for, after all.

Right now his body is trussed with hemp rope and pierced with metal clamps. He hears the sounds approaching that always excite him – the click of heels, the crackle of leather, the strike of the bullwhip on the stone floor.

“You want this, Swine?” the woman asks as she places the end of the leather whip under his chin and lifts his face to her gaze.

He shudders and closes his eyes. “Yes, Mistress, he whispers, “Please,” and waits for her to walk around him and deliver the first of many burns of the lash on his back.

At the end of the session, after he dons his dark suit and kneels before her, she permits him to lick her boots in goodbye.

“Enough! You may leave, Pet.” she waves him away after a few moments. He rises, walks to the door, and turns to look at her. Despite the weekly promises to himself to stay away, he always returns, for he craves the lack of control and the need to be subservient in the hands of a capable sadist.

For him, she is his dominatrix and he is her slave.

For her, he is Friday's noon appointment.

As he closes the door behind him, her phone rings and she answers it before the second brrring. It is her husband.

“Hey, handsome” she says, “If you're calling to remind me about picking up the dry cleaning on my way home, don't worry. I won't forget.”

The light at the side door flashes its one-minute warning.

“Have to get back to work, honey. Kiss the kids for me.”

She hangs up and looks in the full-length mirror. She adjusts the crotch-high leather stiletto boots and checks her face. There's no need to touch up her makeup; she never sweats on the job, though she does wipe off the crimson lipstick. This next one prefers nude lips.

She smoothes her hair and turns to greet the two o'clock submissive who is crawling on his hands and knees into her dungeon.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Dear Jesus Box

Cherie Polite never expected to open her email and find a message from a deity. But here on her computer, was an email from Jesus with the subject heading: “More sex. More often. More exciting.”

She deleted it. After all, she was not one to bother saints or gods with prayers for succor, so she felt it unnecessary to be spammed, especially by a Jesus with a surname of 'Sanchez'.

Her singular connection to religiosity involved a rustic hanging cupboard of solid pine covered with green paint and artfully distressed to show the mustard-colored grain. From one important occasion to another, Cherie placed keepsakes on its shelves,  memorabilia of her life. With them she enclosed chatty notes.

Dear Jesus: Sister Regina told me to stand in front of the class because I couldn't answer a question. She had the students say all together, ‘Cherie is a dimwitted girl.’ When I got the courage to say it wasn’t a nice thing to do, Sister told me to mind my manners. ‘Cherie Polite, be polite!’  The class laughed.

*  *  *

When the boy next door asked her to marry him, both sets of parents – blatantly eavesdropping – took turns walking past the room where the young man perched on his knee and held out a velvet box. Cherie looked down at the ring.

Dear Jesus: I'm happy I’m getting married, though I'm really not sure he's the answer to my prayers―if I did pray anymore―but then, what do I know?

*  *  *

Three months after the marriage, Cherie placed the annulment papers in the box.

Dear Jesus: Found out the answer to my question.

*  *  *

After moving to a new town, Cherie accepted a neighbor's invitation to join a Bible study group. She told herself it was just a way to meet the locals. During the coffee break, one woman gave her a slice of cake.

“You're gonna be happy here,” she said. “Prayer is power. Why, one morning I went to the building supply store and before I turned into the driveway I said, 'Oh Lord, please let me find a parking space by the door.' Guess what?”

Dear Jesus: Coffee was good, though.

*  *  *

One incandescently cloud-free Sunday morning on her last day in town before she moved back home, Cherie's friend telephoned. “Hey, wanna go hear the Dalai Lama speak?” Louie asked.

By the time they reached the event, it was too late.  As far as Cherie could see, after enlightenment came celebration. There were many hundreds of people singing, dancing, and playing frisbee in the open field.

“Wow, look over there,” Louie said, directing her attention to a woman wearing Tibetan garb. She was rubbing the head of a young boy seated near her on a straw mat as she talked to similarly attired women, all clutching beads and laughing. The boy, oblivious, played with a hand-held game.

“That kid has the latest model. Now that's a religious experience,” Louie said. 

Dear Jesus: Much belief . . . and joy . . . for people today. Even Louie!

Early the next morning, Cherie hitched a ride with Louie's cousin back to her hometown. For most of the trip, Franny talked in a scurry of words. “Just think,” she said at one point, “I actually heard the Dalai Lama.” She smiled. “I just love that inner peace.”

Franny saw a large sign on the right. “Food! There’s a rest stop in two miles. How about it?”

Cherie was writing in her notebook.

“Well?”

Cherie looked at Franny, who pointed to the exit. “Want to get some food?”

Dear Jesus: Yes. I'm hungry for that too.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Avocation

Her work colleagues summoned the courage to confront her at an Intervention Breakfast one Friday morning after the exasperated company president ordered the division to solve the problem once and for all. Margaret Bepler, who now sat at the long conference table drinking coffee and eating half a bagel was the problem, and the solution was simple, really.

Margaret had to stop dressing like a woodland fairy.

At the beginning of the week, when she arrived at the office wearing a kelly green dress with hemp leaf and tulle trim, her colleagues smiled and asked about the joke. “Joke?” She frowned. “I don't know a single one.” She turned to make the morning's phone calls, leaving the others quite perplexed, though none felt they wanted to be the one to remind her of the company's dress code.

The second day, all conversation ceased when Margaret stepped off the elevator wearing an olive colored skirt overlaid with multiple layers of brown netting as well as a stretchy bustier laced with neon green ribbon in the back. When her boss took her aside for a private discussion, the others could hear Margaret respond with, “It's not as if I wear wings or a headpiece or even carry a wand.”

The rest of the week brought similar fantasy-inspired fashion to the stodgy office d├ęcor. Company officials were reluctant to take the definitive step of firing her. After all, she had accrued a little more than ten years of employment with them, and the excellent reviews collected in her personnel file were a testament to her diligence and performance. They also surmised that the recent death of Margaret's husband after many years of illness accounted for her unhinged good sense of propriety.

But on this last day of the work week, the vice president of the company hoped this intervention would bring a satisfactory resolution. Although Margaret declined his offer of extra vacation days with pay, she did apologize for any distress her wardrobe choices engendered, and thanked all for their concern. He sat in the conference room with the rest of the staff watching as Margaret chewed the last bite of bagel and finished a second cup of freshly brewed coffee. She stood and brushed crumbs from the butterfly applique patch on the apple green velour bodice of her dress.

“I did love all the compliments I received at the company costume party several weeks ago. It's not like I think I'm a real fairy,” she said by way of rational explanation. “I guess it was hard to give up that good feeling.”



As part of the agreement to put this episode to rest, Margaret promised to don the extra set of clothing she kept in the hall closet, and went to her private office to change. A few minutes later, she stepped out wearing a navy pinstriped suit and white blouse that ineluctably personified corporate life in the forest of finance, and nodded at her relieved office mates.

“Back to work, shall we?” Margaret said and turned to reenter her office, giving them all a good look at the inky blue and viridian wired wings that spanned the width of her back.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Magic Number


Julio the doorman knew how to keep secrets, and after many years of employment at the same upscale residential building in the city, there were many to keep.

“I'm like a bartender or a therapist,” he once told his wife. “Without the booze or couch.”

For example, the people in 3-G were married for five years, no children. Recently, whenever the wife went out of town on business for several days, Mr. 3-G returned home in the dawning hours with a young lady. Julio would unlock the building's front door, smile, and wish them a good morning as they stumbled to the elevator.

Then there was the fifteen year old girl in 7-H who always waved in a see you later salute as she left with a few friends on Wednesday afternoons. The private school the girl attended let out early on those days every week so that the students could perform the required community service of their choice. Julio overheard her telling her parents at the beginning of the semester that she planned on spending several hours fulfilling her assignment at a downtown soup kitchen.

“Where do you think they go?” the super of the building asked Julio once while sharing smokes outside and watching the girls walking across the avenue to hail a cab going uptown.

“Anywhere they want,” Julio said.

Of course, Julio's favorite was the judge in Penthouse A who every Halloween hosted a party while wearing form-fitted women's clothes, a red wig of cascading curls, and four inch heels. In the early part of the evening, when the kids in the building knocked on his door, the judge would sway to the table to get the candy to hand out to them. Once, the little boy in 5-K told Julio he did not like to go to that door for trick or treat because, “a scary, ugly woman” lived there.

The judge's courthouse friends attending the parties laughed at the very idea that the usually somber and humorless state official―nicknamed Hang 'em High Harold―enjoyed the holiday so much he allowed himself this one night of ridicule in such a costume.

But Julio understood that what the judge enjoyed more was the attention from the handsome young men who would come by after all the party goers went home. From the look of their costumes, the theme of the evening could be summed up as 'Bad Boys Who Need to Get Spanked While Handcuffed.'

In all the years he worked there, Julio never once felt any compunction to betray any confidences. However, there was a set price to pay for silence, and it escalated with the cost of living.

“You're a good man,” many of the residents told him time and time again, as they handed him an envelope with cash at the end of the year.

Yes, Julio knew how to keep secrets, especially from the taxman.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Voyages

Kat thought about how when she was a little girl and frightened or worried she would whisper to herself, Angels spread your wings around and protect me, repeating it as many times as necessary for calmness to return to her. She needed the incantation now. Her father lay dying on the floor.

They were in the study after returning from another visit to the doctor. Complications from bronchitis this time. Her father napped on the sofa while she read but awoke with a suffocating cough and tried to stand up. He reached out for her but she could not lift his weight, and he slid to the floor.

“No hospital,” he rasped. “No more. Please.”

She nodded, though she did not tell him that other family members had already called the ambulance and were waiting outside for the paramedics.

Her father looked at her and smiled. Just yesterday he told his daughter he was ready to go. “Look how old I am,” he had said. “I've done everything I wanted, your mother has been gone for so many years, and you're all grown up. There's nothing left but the waiting.” 

As Kat sat on the floor holding her father's hand and stroking his hair, she knew that no matter how much she wished it, he would not recover from this bout of illness. She was resigned and accepted this truth, and would wait with him.

He had loved the sea, and as a young man he left an accounting job to join the Merchant Marines. Kat and her mother would welcome him home with joyful kisses during his months-long leave, and send him off with tearful ones when he returned to the ships. His stories around the family table after the dishes were done told of Lucullan seafood dinners along the Mediterranean shore, rollicking taberna-hopping, bullfights in Spain, and wistful moments lying awake on the ship's deck, with smoke rising from his cigarettes to meet the stars in a Greek night. Frayed photographs showed him sitting with friends in a French cafe with cup in hand, intensity in his light eyes, and a black beret rakishly gracing his right profile.

“You're just like a character in an Ernest Hemingway story,” Kat told him once and made him laugh.

Whenever he returned from his voyages, his usual shout of, “Where is my Pussy Kat?” brought her running down the stairs shrieking and answering with, “Where are my presents?” The first time her mother admonished her for this, her father shushed his wife. “Just our little joke,” he said.

Now, his voice whispered, “I am so tired.”

They heard the sirens of the approaching ambulance. Her father closed his eyes.

“Angels spread your wings around and protect him,” Kat said, and went to tell the others.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dawning

She did not have identification on her, so police made a public appeal for help. Video from a nearby traffic camera showed a slight woman jogging across the street in the shadowy dawn. Quick moments later, a tractor trailer sped through the 30 mile an hour spot.

Officers believed the truck driver did not realize he had struck and killed someone.

“I always carry my ID now. Ever since that jogger was hit by the bus last month, I...well, just in case, ya know?” This from a  bystander speaking to the local media. Other residents roused from slumber by the commotion came outside hoping to be on the morning news programs. They shook their heads and complained that they just knew this would happen again.

“We've demanded the city install a traffic light at this intersection,” one woman said. “But they ignore us.”

The police did not have much information to pass along to television viewers. Just a description of  a white female approximately in her thirties, wearing dark exercise clothes, brightly colored sneakers with violet laces, and three crystal filigree bracelets on her right arm.

Apparently, she was listening to music as she ranthe earphones a possible explanation of why she may not have heard the vehicle turning onto her path.

Across town, a woman drinking a last cup of coffee before leaving for the office saw the televised appeal for any information, and gasped as she thought she recognized the jewelry displayed on camera. It reminded her of the ones her work colleague wore every day.

Half an hour later, news readers reported that, “Police have identified the victim but are withholding her name until the family is notified.”

*  *  *

The officers parked the cruiser in front of a darkened house a few blocks from the site of the accident. One of them checked the address and nodded to his partner. They walked the short path to the door, rang the bell, and waited.

Inside the house, a man was turning on the kitchen light and opening the back door to let out the dog  when he heard the doorbell followed by sharp knocking at the front of the house. He looked at the shelf under the clock and saw his wife's keys hanging on its special hook. She's locked herself out again, he thought.

“Okay, be right there!” he called out when the bell buzzed once more. He walked to the hall.

“Is mommy back?” The little boy stood yawning at the top of the stairs on the second floor.

“Yes,” his dad said. “Come down and give her a good morning kiss.”

He turned and opened the door.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Blockade

The city's resources were no longer adequate to feed the hungry after enemy forces arrived.

On most nights, Annie's mother smiled and promised she would eat later after she divided her portion of dinner between her children. But no amount of money could buy what they needed for survival anymore, and her weakness and apathy diminished her interaction with the surrounding world. Eventually her body, mind, and struggle against the inevitable stopped.

Yesterday, she died of starvation.

Today, Annie walked unfamiliar streets with her little brother looking for an address. Her mother's last whispers through puffed lips cleaved with arid lineations told of a place where rebels offered sustenance.

“Come with us,” Annie had begged as she held out a glass of water, but her mother shook her head and refused the drink. The fungi growing in her throat made swallowing unbearably painful.

“I'm sorry,” she said to her children in an exhale of shallow breath.  A few hours later, there were no more words.

When the president of the country announced the unexpected and shocking news that war had come to their doorstep, Annie's father left immediately to rejoin his former military colleagues, all of whom were determined to take up arms against the invaders.

At one time in the past, a beloved politician intoned the immortal words, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But this battle had no precedent, and the citizens realized they could look neither to their stricken leader nor to history for guidance and comfort. Hope seemed non-existent; there was everything to fear now.

“Are we there yet?” her brother asked after she touched his shoulder and stilled his steps. They looked around the garbage-strewn area in the abandoned industrial section of the city.

“Yes,” she said. “We just have to stand behind this person, that's all.” She pointed to a man who did not acknowledge them except for moving forward a step and hunching his shoulders, as if to say this spot on this here concrete is mine!

Her brother turned to her. “Will we get food?”

“I hope so,” she said, and saw that he shivered. Taking a small sweater from her bag, she helped him put it on and, after all the buttons were secured, placed her arm around his frailty. She knew they would be here for some time.

Lines stretched for blocks as people waited for their rations. Starvation instead of annihilation. The aliens were smart.



Note: I thank  Selorian for the last paragraph, a  prompt found at his #storystarters page.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Trump Card

She guzzled the second drink while she waited for her daughter to arrive and introduce her to the foreigner she planned to marry. When she snapped her fingers and then knocked on the table, the waiter nodded. He understood the keep them coming gesture.

“Of all the bad news you can give, this is the worst,” she complained to her daughter the week before as she paced in the sitting room. “How do you know he's not marrying you just to become legal?”

Several hours of argument. No changing of minds.

Now she sat in the back of the restaurant in an immigrant section of town and drank the third glass of the thick liquid she preferred whenever she was upset. She played with the stones on her fingers and suffered another rush of ire as she remembered that her future son-in-law had not bought her daughter a ring.

A necklace! She thought. The server arrived with another drink. “Maybe in his corner of the world a necklace is the right kind of jewelry for an engagement, but it doesn't impress me,” she said to him.

“Momu, stop annoying the help.” Her daughter's arrival caused many heads to turn in admiration. She laughed, blew a kiss at her mother, and waved the server away.  She planned to make the few minutes before her fiance showed up very happy ones for her mother.

“Behold,” she said as she sat next to her on the banquette. “This is my gorgeous present.” She unlatched the chain and placed it on the tablecloth. She smiled as her mother put down her drink and, with opened mouth and widened eyes, picked up the true amber pendant.

“Daughter, do you know how rare and expensive this is?” she whispered, as she counted a dozen fossilized objects embedded in the resin. It was well understood among her circle of friends that collectors highly valued this gemstone with natural inclusions indicating mammalian life.

“Yes, Momu, it's the first one found in thirty years. And my love can afford any price,” she said with unrestrained pride.

“Wealth handed down the family line for generations?”

“Of course,” her daughter said. “The old-fashioned way.”

Her mother smiled. No need to worry about her child's future, then. She lifted the pendant and marveled at the pristine and complete specimen of bellicose creatures that, as legend has it, once roamed the world as soldiers in the Special Forces of the United States Army. This piece is truly a drama of ancient history, she thought, then looked up to see her daughter kissing her betrothed hello.

“Welcome to the family,” she said and extended her right arms. He bowed his three heads and kissed the back of her hands in reply.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gifts

I am happy and honored that two lovely people have passed on The Sugar Doll Blogger Award to me.

Many thanks to:

Deanna Schrayer at The Other Side of Deanna
Laura Eno at A Shift in Dimensions

I would like to pass along this award to:

Cathy Olliffe at Life on the Muskoka River

She is quite funny, sassy, and her comments on my stories always make me feel as if I done good!

 Now look here.

 

 


If The Sugar Blogger was not enough reason to celebrate, I've also received The Silver Lining AND Honest Scrap awards from Anne Lord Tyler who can be found at Don't Fence Me In

What can I say? I am flabbergasted. I consider these women exceptional writers and friends whose support, encouragement, and sense of fun make any day great. Please visit them and you'll see for yourself.

The Silver Lining Award is given to blogs that help others or that focus on the good things in life to uplift others. This award comes with one condition. I must now pass it on to five other blogs that I feel have accomplished the same thing.

The Sugar Doll and Honest Scrap Awards require me to list ten things about myself that are true. Damn! Er. I mean, of course I will. I'll combine the two and keep it to ten for my sake, and yours.

1. I was born and raised in New York City.

2. I taught myself to read at four years of age.

3. I attended Catholic School until junior high. Yeah. I know.

4. The only sport I enjoyed playing in school was.... Well, I'll think on it and get back to you.

5. I was asked to the school prom by the captain of the football team, even though I was NOT a cheerleader. Didn't go because my father would not allow it.

6. I was a television reporter.

7. I have three children.

8. I enjoy living in Washington, DC, but miss New York and visit often.

9. Never inhaled or exhaled cigarettes or anything else. Which explains a lot.

10. Love listening to other people's stories than talking about myself.

 
Once again, please forgive me for adapting the conditions to my needs at the moment. Because I know that so many of my writing friends have or are receiving these awards from different people, I've decided not to overwhelm them. So I hereby bestow The Silver Lining and Honest Scrap awards to one person who is quite wonderful and inspirational, too. She also shares her wine with me. Virtually, of course, though if I could get her to visit maybe she'll bring a bottle!

Georganna Hancock. Her great blog is A Writer's Edge and it's so chock full of good information, amusing asides, no-nonsense thinking that one can consider it as getting five blogs for the price of one!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frater

You can only refuse to believe in something until you see it with your own eyes. Henry now believed in ghosts.

While waiting for the fraternity brothers to come downstairs for dinner, he walked into the lounge and saw a young man blowing chilled breath onto three of the mullioned window panes and tracing letters in the condensation.

“Who are you?” Henry asked. “You must know there's an investigation. We're closed.”

The young man stilled his movements and turned.

“You!” Henry said, heart thumping.

Thomas smirked, tilting his head to one side. “Me,” he agreed.

“You're supposed to be dead.”

“How very interesting,” Thomas rolled his eyes. “Anyone would think I was unaware of this.”

Several days ago, “Two Die During Rush Week” was one of the many headlines in the local newspapers. Pictures revealed handsome young men with athletic builds and rakish smiles. When it happened, it was Hell Night, and Thomas stood with Henry and another freshman awaiting further instructions.

They endured several harsh antics and pranks, and only one thing needed to be done before these pledges discovered if the fraternity brothers extended a hand in bonding and unity or goodbye. The last test involved drinking lots of water quickly. The ones who drank the most within the half hour were assured a place in the house.

The autopsy report concluded death from water intoxication and its complications. Doctors were called too late and could not reverse the cellular damage from severe brain tissue swelling.

“What do you want?” Henry asked.

Thomas walked to the sofa and tapped his fingers along the frayed armrest where his head had rested that evening as he lay dying.

“It's you who needs to remember something,” he said.

“Me? You're crazy. Or I am, if I'm standing here talking to you.”

Thomas shook his head and returned to the window. He touched the last pane.

“I'll see you later, Henry.”

“What? No! Why would you haunt me? Didn't I try to call the police, when the others wanted to wait until morning to see if things got better?”

Thomas laughed. “You could not do very much.”

“I tried to help!” Henry insisted. "But no one would listen to me." He took a calming breath, trying to relax his features, trying to look less like a frightened boy. Thomas pointed to the window, then looked at him over his shoulder.

“Just returning the favor,” he said, then winked and dispersed into curling grey wisp that fogged the fourth pane and outlined a last word.

You Are Dead Too



[Edited to add few lines to clear up confusion for several readers]