Stuff to do


Cal knew the hazards of working outdoors. He stayed aware of power lines, kept a hat on his head to avoid sunstroke, and wore steel-toed boots in case he dropped something heavy on his feet. “A man can’t work if his toes is broke,” he always told his wife.

He refused to wear bug spray, though. Couldn’t stand the smell. So all kinds of parasites had their way with him. A severe allergic reaction drew the unwanted attention of his foreman.  

He realized he must truly be a sight when the boss gasped in reaction to Cal’s swollen face. “Damn, man! Your cheeks done puffed up like an ol’ Bing cherry. Biggest one I ever seen, in fact,” Hawkins claimed. “I don’t think I can keep you on my crew lookin’ like that.”

Cal brushed off the comment and swore to his perfect faculties. No little bug bites would keep him from a day’s wage. He had bills to pay.

Hawkins disagreed. As Cal’s face continued to swell, his eyes came ominously near closing. He could barely see through the protuberant lids. “Really, boss, I’m fine,” he insisted. “Let … ge … baaa to wook,” Cal struggled to utter from behind distended lips.

You don’t get to decide that,” Hawkins told him. “I let you swing a hammer in that condition, and it’s my ass. I doubt you can pick one up with those sausage fingers.” Cal lifted his hands to peer painfully at his ballooning phalanges.

The emergency room nurse advised Cal how dangerously close he’d come to anaphylactic shock. He lay in the bed tethered to an IV pole, a powerful antihistamine pumping into his veins. She checked the flow of medication from the bag and asked, “Those little buggers are nasty, huh?”

Cal didn’t answer, his throat almost completely closed. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I forgot you can’t talk right now.” He noticed the thumb on his right hand bent just a little and thought, “I wonder if Hawkins will let me clock back in this afternoon.”  

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – “You don’t get to decide that.”


Leave a comment

Filed under writing



Ellie groaned upon waking up and practically pried open her swollen left eye. Parting her eyelids to the morning light was difficult considering how crying so hard the night before made her face feel as puffy as a marshmallow. Her boyfriend was apologetic the first time he hit her and said he’d never do it again. He had.

Yet he swore he loved her and would never hurt her again. She had no reason to think otherwise, but her bruises hadn’t yet disappeared before another incident gave her new ones to take their place.

The problem was that their lives were so entwined by then that Ellie couldn’t remember where she began and her partner ended. Some would call them enmeshed, her friends in particular. They knew she wasn’t herself anymore. The Ellie they knew would never fall for his empty promises or stand for such abuse a second time, contusions that cut to her core and damaged her previous sense of self and personal boundaries.

Her sister and mother were horrified to see he latest argument’s after effects and tried in vain to help Ellie leave. No amount of persuasion satisfied the young woman that he wouldn’t change. She just knew it would be different this time.

Days followed within a cycle of bargaining. Ellie’s boyfriend swore his undying love and remorse at losing his temper. He said she just shouldn’t make him so angry in order to avoid those outbursts – that she just pushed his buttons.

Logic finally prevailed when a co-worker shared her personal story of previously being in an abusive relationship and offered her a place to stay. Her colleague’s experience finally convinced Ellie to leave him, but her estranged boyfriend’s desperation to reunite gained strength. He told her, “I’m not that guy anymore. You have to take me back!” The remorseful expression he wore tugged at her emotions so longingly she almost believed he was sincere.

Several months of professional counseling kept Ellie successfully single and back on a path to strong self-esteem and renewed confidence. Any time she had mixed feelings about not getting back together with her ex-boyfriend, she looked down at her bare ring finger where she used to wear the diamond solitaire he’d given her upon proposing. A bulge in her wrist just above that appendage remained where the fracture he inflicted hadn’t quite healed correctly. She’d been embarrassed to answer the emergency room nurses’ probing questions yet another time.

The update on her ex from a mutual acquaintance came as no surprise. His assault arrest came  after he brutally beat his new fiancé. She lay in critical condition at the local hospital with a questionable outcome. Doctors doubted if the woman would revive from her coma.

Guilt rushed over Ellie as she realized how lucky she was, although she felt relieved her own prognosis was so much more optimistic. She remembered an old advice column from Ann Landers she’d once read that cautioned, “If you’re not happy with what you have, be happy with what you have escaped.”


The Studio 30+ prompts “entwined” and “I’m not that guy anymore” within Summer’s End.

photo source: L on Flickr


Filed under writing

Bye Bye Birdy

At the least desirable moment, the worst possible time, the temperature begins to fall. Summer will end and make the world feel suddenly more volatile. The peaceful break once filled with hope for all things joyful become an aching descent into chill and decay.

Everything will soon slow into inaction so the earth can sleep and rejuvenate in winter’s incubation.

High above, arcuates etched in the sky signal migration’s inevitable change of season. Such distant sentinels mark the finality of my dread, as avian abandon means time is ticking.

Leaves to soon fall quickly morph into a dying landscape.

Light deprivation looms close, and depression may follow. Fly away. There’s no going back.

The Studio 30+ writing prompt “Summer will end” was originally written by Laura.


Filed under writing

The Gang’s All Here

Quinn via Flickr

Murphy was walking out the door when he glanced casually back over his shoulder to announce, “Calhoun’s dead.” Several jaws fell to the floor around the table he just left. Playing cards hit the scratched and beer-soaked wood where the current hand of Texas Hold ‘Em came to an abrupt halt. The news came as quite a shock.

The men grew up in the same neighborhood and spent most summers causing trouble after being let loose from the confines of the public school. Its futile attempt to educate the bunch had fallen short, and they invoked their own instruction by learning rules of the street. Doing so brought them closer through a unique code of ethics, one with honor among thieves.

Regardless of their rough demeanor, everyone sat in shock at Calhoun’s early demise. Murphy led his posse with great aplomb and mostly kept them out of harm’s way. His great nonchalance at revealing a friend’s murder was suspicious to say the least.

Milligan slammed down his fist and demanded to know what happened, while the most tendered-hearted of the bunch, Squalls, struggled to stifle tears of grief that sprang to his eyes. He done his first job with Calhoun, albeit a simple snatch-and-grab of an old lady’s purse on 31st Street.  The two had “cut their teeth” as hoodlums and developed an affinity for each other much like brothers.

Squalls thought back to more innocent times when they played stick ball down the block and caught crawfish in a stream at his Grandfather’s farm outside the city. They learned to use a gun by killing off rattlesnakes out there, his grandparents never suspecting how well that burgeoning skill would serve the budding hooligans in the future.

An aroma of wood smoke came to the man’s senses, and Squalls blinked tears back enough to glance around the room for the source of such a smell. Nothing in the barroom ignited the sensory memory flooding his brain – only a distant recollection of school break spent with Calhoun in that bucolic setting when they were only boys. Not the acquitted felons they now were, their mothers’ greatest failings.

Squalls swiped a stubby finger under both eyes, his gaze cast downward to hide any possible weakness perceived in his grief, and sniffed back a choking sensation welling in his throat. He would let Murphy tell the tale of his friend’s death and then surmise how much of the story he assessed as true.

Looking skeptically around the circle of chairs to grasp any feeling expressed on the subject and coming to no specific conclusion, he stared up at Murphy. The broad-shouldered criminal stood in the doorway, with light from outside casting a halo silhouette around his menacing frame, and exhaled deeply. Murphy’s face remained expressionless, and he calmly stated, “It had to be done, gents. Calhoun was a liability, not an asset.”


*Studio 30+ prompt – SUMMER


Filed under writing

Pack a Joeys

fly swatter

She’d say, “Y’alls just a bunch of dumb ass kids who don’t know a thing.” We heard that a lot from Granny. Said we were stupider than day-old possums and twice as ugly. Momma was her least favorite daughter-in-law and talked even more hateful to her. If that was possible.

Momma said to ignore her, that Granny was just a bitter woman with no husband or friends. She told us, “That ol’ lady is going to have to meet her maker one day, and may the Good Lord have pity on her soul.” I don’t know how anybody could show her pity. Most old people have lines on their faces, but that woman had permanent marks between her eyes like somebody kicked her, and her mouth was all squinched up like she was always sucking on lemons.

We had the misfortune to sleep over at Granny’s house whenever Momma had to work too late. Our fearful tears didn’t prevent the stay even though I told her how my cousin claimed Granny gave a pretty hard swoppin’ when she was mad, but Momma had no other choice. She didn’t want to leave us there since Granny didn’t like us any more than she did her. Said she never understood why her son married such a woman.

Granny would come outta her bedroom if she heard giggling in the living room, a wire flyswatter in hand, all three of us piled together on the ancient fold-out couch. Strands of white hair hung loose and sprung out in spikes from her temples, the rest otherwise matted down with sweat from an exasperating evening with us.

It was frightening when she let down her braid at night that was normally twisted up on her head. A long, thin layer cascased in lank waves down her back. The snowy color reminded us of a witch from Grimm’s fairy tales instead of a sweet lady who baked pies and sang in the church choir.

The fly swatter, an instrument of discipline, swung at my little brother’s head. A tiny squeal leached out of his mouth, his eyes wide in horror. I laughed my nervous laughter, uncomfortable and wondering if I was next in line for a swopping.

A lightbulb flashed in my brain, and I knew for certain I wasn’t as dumb as Granny thought. I stood up on the matress and stepped cautiously toward her. That crone’s right eye wrinkled into a squint, giving me the stink eye to beat all looks. I reached out and hugged the old bitty.

She shuddered like no one had ever touched her before. I toppled back down onto my brother and sister when Granny shook me off. She turned around and shuffled back down the hall to her bedroom, that eye still all puckered up at me and suspicious. Showed her I’m not so stupid after all.

Studio 30+ prompt: I  laughed my nervous laughter originally from Marie

(image –


Filed under writing

Even Up North

Huff Post

They grew up in a town that was more than a little backward. A visitor from anywhere else would feel like a time machine’s dial had at least been set back to the ‘70s upon arrival there, and very few faces were a hue other than white. Anyone of color stayed indoors after the sun’s setting.

No actual laws stated non-caucasians shouldn’t venture outside at night, but people took the not-so-subtle hints to safeguard their families. Why tempt fate? Ugly sidelong glances on the street in the daytime were enough to make black people uneasy, much less the remarks made by passersby with racist sticks up their asses.

Ellen knew how to recognize that look from someone who wouldn’t quite meet her gaze, one who peered only from her neck down with a crisscrossed scowl. Old school. Her white grandmother warned her about those types.

She was mixed race, with a white mother who died when Ellen was in her early teens and a black father she never met. Plenty was said about him in his lifetime of absence, none of it good.

Grandma shared cautionary tales about the scandal when Ellen’s mother started seeing her father. Disapproving of the relationship, her own brothers trapped the couple in the boy’s car, one threatening him from outside the locked doors with a bat and the other proffering only fisticuffs. “It was just the times,” her grandmother said. “Your uncles didn’t like your daddy and didn’t want their sister mixed up with his kind.” Ironically, Grandma couldn’t say what was so objectionable about him other than his skin color.

The “whites only” signs from Grandma’s time had since disappeared, but prejudice lingered long from the area’s past and well into its present. Kids learned early in life to hate other children for no reason. If asked why they picked on classmates or called them names, the kids could give no sensible answer. Only, “that’s the way it is.”

Plenty was said behind Ellen’s back at school, mainly sneers and unprovoked taunts meant to hurt her for no apparent reason. Naturally shy, she tried to ignore the kids who harassed her. Other quiet classmates tried to keep the attention off themselves by ignoring Ellen’s plight. But they didn’t speak up for her either.

It all began to fall apart for Ellen when her brother got into a fight at school protecting her from bullies. Robbie defended Ellen from a group whose cruel bravery was relative to its size, as mob mentality usually works. Robbie came home with an eye swollen shut from the beating he took at the two oldest boys’ hands.

Ellen and Robbie had different fathers, but at least he knew his dad. Robbie’s white father was also in a short-lived relationship with their mom, but Ellen was biracial and considered a bastard. She ignored the mocking, but Robbie couldn’t stand it. He was sick and tired of the girls who made fun of her curly hair and the boys who called Ellen all the names he and his sister had been taught not to say in their home.

Black, yellow, brown, or red  –  it was just brutality for the sake of sick fun. Even their uncles had apparently enjoyed it.

Robbie planned to end the hateful epithets once and for all. He waited for them in the parking lot after school, hiding behind one boy’s truck to use the element of surprise to get back at both of them. His sucker-punch plan didn’t work and actually backfired on him.

Grandma was so upset when she got the news, Ellen had to drive her to the hospital where Robbie was undergoing surgery for internal injuries. The girl practically carried the frail woman into the emergency room waiting area as she sobbed uncontrollably. She cried, “Why can’t Robbie just leave better off alone? It’s just the way things are! He’s never going to change how those boys think.”

Ellen bit her tongue and sat with her grandmother while they waited for the ER doctor. She hugged her and replied, “No, Grandma. We’re never going to change their minds.” She looked up to see her uncles walking in the door and muttered, “Or anyone else’s.”


*This week’s Studio 30 Plus writing prompt was “it all began to fall apart,” an original phrase from Stephanie.

(photo credit: Huffington Post)


Filed under writing

The Fringe

Jden Redden on Flickr

Jden Redden on Flickr

He wore a faded brown fedora that protected his hairless head from the sun’s rays as he walked the streets. It was not purchased at a haberdashery, as one might suspect from the tycoon, but was instead a finder’s keeper.

A predilection for thrift store shopping implied Jones was impoverished at first glance but was actually quite wealthy. He was tight with his money although his fortune was made in the oil industry, disenfranchising his family in the process. All the work meant little time for loved ones, who swiftly procured his place in a nursing facility with the onset of dementia later in his life.

No one noticed when he followed some visitors out through a secure exit and away from the home, never to return. He left with only a lock box of his most valued possessions secured under his arm.

He found the old brown topper on the ground next to a scroungy mottled dog, similar in color, in the park following his escape. Jones spied the hat beside the friendly mongrel, right at its brim, prompting his moniker for the mutt. “Brim” seemed to be waiting for Jones and perked up at his approach. They became fast friends and wandered the streets together, inseparable to the end. Their days were spent outside in each other’s company strolling the park in daytime and sleeping on a secluded bench out of the public eye and scrutiny of the authorities.

Up to that point, the man spent his life as a miser who meant to disprove the old saying, “You can’t take it with you.” He vowed to do so and left a note in his pocket with his last wishes.

The action was more a deliberate obfuscation. A generous person would willingly leave a legacy for others to use, if even for the sake of doing right instead of getting recognized for altruism. Any other man would surely bequeath his riches to surviving family.

No love was there to be lost between the relatives. Jones suspected they only wanted his money and found a greater connection with his canine companion. He said the dog “wagged his tail and not his tongue,” feeling he’d found the perfect relationship with someone who wanted nothing else from him but his company.

The world had sucked the good out of him by then, and his scant remaining empathy was gone by the time his dead body was discovered in the park. The brown dog watched mournfully as workers hauled him away to a drawer at the City Morgue with a John Doe tag on his toe.

Jones felt about life as he did about his headpiece. Having once read words written by Oscar Wilde that, “All good hats are made out of nothing,” he saw fortune the same way. People made their own luck.

Believing everyone deserves only what they earn, he wanted his money to go to whomever befriended his loving pal, Brim. The dog took to few people other than Jones but seemed to sense who truly needed his camaraderie. Someone approved by his sharp canine wits would find a tiny key tied to the collar buried deep in his unkempt fur.

The dog would later dig up the lock box from its hiding place under the park bench where he and Jones met. The charmed schmo who cared for Brim would find the man’s tattered hat inside with a well-worn copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray atop a sizable pile of money.

Losers weepers.   Studio30

*Studio 30+ writing promptHe wore a faded brown fedora” from Ashley.


Filed under writing

Shoo Fly

Wiechert-Visser creative commons

She realized early on her new marriage wasn’t all she hoped it would be. People fall into routines, and life goes takes on a new rhythm following the honeymoon’s afterglow, but she was crestfallen to discover how different her husband was once the newness became old hat.

Granted, they married later than most couples, in their 30s. She had cast his first marriage out of her mind and attributed that divorce to youth and ignorance, but now she was feeling what the first woman probably experienced long before she fell into the same rut. The old saying about people being “stuck in their ways” was too obviously true.

Her husband simply checked out. They rarely talked, didn’t hang out together, and never went on dates. It was if she didn’t exist. His face was stuck in a screen – either the computer’s or his smart phone’s – but never looking at her.

He was still there, but it was if he had just evaporated. His mind was elsewhere, maybe at work or perhaps on another woman. Broaching the subject did no good, as he brushed off her questions like a bothersome fly buzzing in his ear.

She grieved for their lost love but swore she wouldn’t let herself become inconsequential. The spark was gone, and she had to accept it. She scraped what was left of her dignity off the floor and made plans to leave.

Few of their scant furnishings belonged to her, so she had little to pack. Sadly, there was more left in the house than in their marriage when she walked out the door. Sniffing back a tear before pulling out of the driveway, she wondered if her husband might miss her.

He was meanwhile engrossed in something on the computer, as usual, and didn’t see her leave. Maybe he’d notice when a text from the phone company informed him she hadn’t paid the bill.

- photo Wiechert-Visser Creative Commons Studio30

*Studio 30+ prompt “…he had just evaporated…” from the original post He Confessed Everything.


Filed under writing

He who Laughs Last

Grand River Conservation AuthorityDave thought his weekend antics were private, that his co-workers would never know. Secrets were so much easier to keep in the days before social media’s onset. He’d later rethink his personal policy of “sharing” with his colleagues.

Pictures don’t lie, and proof of what he’d done was posted all over the internet. All revealed by his so-called friends. No way to deny it come Monday morning.

So he’d confessed everything. Wearing the thong banana hammock, aka butt floss, on the bus ride down to the river. The puffy bunny tail perched above his ass crack. A humiliating seven hours on the river he’d spent trying to keep his 350 pounds of near nudity out of the public glare in the ostensible confines of a canoe.

Attempting to escape everyone’s taunting that day was fruitless.

The river’s circuitous path wound eastward for miles, its banks lined with sprawling oaks. Limbs reached across the expanse of water and hovered above the canoes drifting languidly downstream. Gigantic leaves created a canopy but didn’t quite shade the luminous skin in the boats on the water below, and the sunlight quickly burned all the unprotected epidermis within its reach.

Webbed roots trickled down from the eroding shoreline and deflected catcalls echoing across — with Dave as their target.  “Whoa, lard ass … cover that shit up!” yelled one onlooker. Others called out, “Oh, my God. What is wrong with you, man?” and “My eyes, my eyes!” A raft full of college girls burst into drunken laughter at the site of him, some feigned sickness and pretended to vomit over their boat’s inflated tubes. “Nice nut-huggers,” an older gentleman half-heartedly complimented him in passing.

Dave bit his lip and paddled onward, head held high, knowing what waited for him at the rendezvous point. He won the bet for weathering a day-long firestorm of constant jeers and triumphantly gripped five dripping $100 bills as he boarded the outfitter’s bus back to the campground parking lot where the safety of his car awaited him.

No towel, no clothes, only a g-string swimsuit and the cottonball. Sloshing Converse high tops didn’t cover any of the humiliation.

He stomped up the steps of the vehicle to finally end the day. A warning came from the driver sitting nonplussed behind the wheel. “You better hold on tight to that money, buddy,” she said. “‘Cause you sure don’t have anywhere else to put it.”


*The Studio 30+ prompt “…he’d confessed everything…” was originally written by Kir.



Filed under writing

Pleated Memory

accordionSchoolmates teased Marlon for as long as he could remember, and he used to wallow in his misery until feeling blue became his second biggest pastime. Unfortunately, his favorite activity was also the source of his juvenile misery. A music teacher encouraged him early in life, and Marlon was introduced to his muse … the accordion.

The instrument his parents purchased took almost as many beatings as he did. A less-than-melodious noise emerged from it when the bellows was repaired with adhesive tape. Trying to patch it with cardboard and glue made the sound worse. With no money to buy another button box, Marlon’s musical dreams were dashed and his anger turned fatally inward.

Though he never reached his own musical aspirations, he listened to all the greats on his phonograph — Tony Muréna, Guido Deiro, Emile Prud’homme — and dreamed of a career that could have been.

Marlon lived a life of accomplishment, having survived the war and saved his battalion from certain doom in a sniper attack. Those early times of daily accordion practice meant his trigger finger was nimble, and he picked off a sharpshooter from a tower where the villain took shots but ultimately fell to Marlon’s aim.

The melodies of his musical heroes soared through a mental concertina as he tromped through his final days in Italy and France, all the while praising the genius of Cyrill Demian.

The unlikely hero came to an untimely end via other means, his depression getting the best of him. By then, he had nothing of his own left but his dignity, and he swore to never let them take that away from him. Marlon’s ego remained battered, and he longed to play the classics of his past.

His life meant nothing without his squeezebox.


*Studio 30+ writing prompt – he had nothing of his own from a previous post by Joe Scott.



Filed under writing