Silenced Song

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Norman actually bragged on his body’s ability to create such an incredible level of stench. “I damn near ran everybody outta the bathroom at a bar in Dallas,” he laughed and hooked both thumbs in belt loops to hike up the waist of jeans trapped under his burgeoning girth. “That’s what they get on burrito night!” The man had no shame.

People joked about those generous bodily functions, even when they were canvassing the shoulder of the road for trash along a stretch emblazoned with a highway cleanup sign that read, “Sponsored by the Friends of Norman Blevins.” When the fellas down at the MFA heard about his passing, one commented, “That ornery ol’ cuss had a heart of gold. We all just loved him.” They’d slap him on the shoulder and laugh at his bad jokes. Many people felt the same way and ignored his flaws in favor of his endearing, if not slovenly, charm. He’d help anybody if their dead battery needed a jump or give them a hand with livestock.

Norm’s entrance at the tavern seemed an episode of that old show Cheers, with people calling his name when he walked through the door. He’d holler, “Lemme buy you a beer,” upon seeing a friend. Someone else would show up, so they’d have a few more. Most patrons thought the world of Norman and thought nothing at all of his getting behind the wheel to drive himself home.

They couldn’t believe the tragic newspaper headline announcing the accidental deaths of Norman Blevins and Brian Johnson..

Mrs. Johnson didn’t know Norman. She never met him since they lived in different parts of town, she on the opposite side where mostly black folks lived. The white patrolman who told came to deliver the news of her son’s death didn’t know her either. He’d only been in that neighborhood on past calls. If not for a few boys from there playing high school ball, cops only knew the ones who caused trouble.

Brian was a shy kid who made good grades. He hadn’t arrived home from band practice when his mother opened the door to find a state trooper who asked, “Are you Mrs. Johnson?” She didn’t hear anything else he said after he first uttered those words every parent dread. They felt like a blow to her stomach.

Brian died at the hospital after being hit by a truck on his way home after school. A witness going in the other direction saw Norman Blevins’ truck tires drop off the shoulder and him swerve across the road and over-correct. A teenager walking on the opposite grass shoulder got struck, thrown into the air, and propelled into the ditch. Much like the discarded bottles thrown out of vehicle windows and strewn along the road. The boy’s trumpet case lay hidden in the tall weeds until his younger brother found it in his search a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from the local bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day the man may not have realized he hit anything. The man they knew would never even hurt a fly. Blevins’ friends had the highway department put up a memorial sign within just a few weeks.

It disappeared in a couple days, though. Blades of foxtail later grew up through holes in the metal “Friends of Norman Blevins” signpost that stayed hidden in the ditch where Brian’s brother threw it in desperate anger and grief. His brother replaced it with a cross made of sticks, wound together with torn handles of Brian’s backpack he would never carry again. The boy meant the marker as a clarion so people might notice his brother’s absence from the world.

Brian didn’t hold a position like Blevins or his friends, but Brian’s brother wanted to show that he’d been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew him, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember Brian, too. Although he would never play his trumpet again, it would still be heard.

*Writing prompt – ornery from Our Write Side

photo: Karen via Flickr

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Snug as Two Bugs in a Rug

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If not for being hidden out in the middle of nowhere, the farmhouse’s slanted red roof would’ve seemed a beacon meant to draw people’s attention. The residents within sure didn’t want anyone to notice their whereabouts, not with what went on elsewhere on the property. Leastways, not with what got buried behind their small outbuilding.

The pair labored under a starlit sky that cast just enough illumination for their work. James Earl shot his sister a stern look. “Poppy, you would just about give Mother the fits if she seen how you left that pick ax laying around like that.” He pointed to the ground where the implement lay. “She learned you better than that, girl.”

Poppy resented his constant badgering and focused her icy glare on the ground in front of her instead of on his face, her primary target. “It’s not like she’s here to see it, James. She’s been dead and gone for almost 10 years.” The woman disguised her expression to a more neutral visage before looking up at her sibling.

“Don’t you speak ill of my sweet mother,” he warned. It was not as if he owned the exclusive rights to her memory.

Poppy kept her tone steady. “Don’t you imagine Momma would be a bit more disturbed to know what you used that ax for?” Their parents left the farm to the pair as an inheritance, never suspecting they would remain together indefinitely. Those years put them in a close proximity that often tested Poppy’s nerves.

“And she was my mother, too.” She was finding it more difficult to mask the contention in her voice. Not that James would notice.

Random visitors limped their vehicles along in seek of help on the road, and often fancied them a couple at first meeting. Not many people stopped by any other time. Three RVs out front used to belong to random stragglers who had the bad luck of mechanical problems. Some lacked the gasoline to get them to safety.

Those drivers didn’t know that pair long carried a grudge against the world that intersected with their own path. James Earl and Poppy continued to work at the hole where the latest set of passersby were set to spend their eternal rest. Each of three other mounds had finally begun to settle to an even plane with the surrounding earth. Those spots shouldn’t draw any attention from an otherwise unsuspecting eye.

Poppy and James Earl hoped no one would find out about the treasures they collected from those unlucky travelers. The jewelry and cash locked up in a safe nestled inside a wall in the house, all the souvenirs they hoarded from their victims. Any clothing or other possessions had long since been burned elsewhere and not a trace left of the folks. 

Thinking about that loot made James Earl smile as he stood beside the indented place, hands on his hips, surveying their handiwork. He said, “You know, Poppy, at this rate we ought to have enough together by next year to take that trip up to Des Moines like we always hoped. It will finally be time for a celebration.” His head bobbed up and down with satisfaction.

“I don’t know, James Earl,” Poppy seemed to agree. She picked her tool up from the ground and moved strategically around behind her brother. Just before she raised the pick up over his head to land a fatal blow, she told him, “I might just be drivin’ that road on my own.” 

Our Write Side writing prompt – celebration

photo: “shed rust” by Rusty via Flickr

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Stranger Danger

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The white van parked sideways across two spaces in a side lot of Pine Creek Wildlife Area had a homemade trailer hitched to the back that took up extra room. An unlatched wooden box sat atop it that emanated such a stench passersby stopped to sniff the air in search of the source for the miasma. Had the driver realized how the box’s timber would fail to contain the foul odor within, he would’ve parked elsewhere to keep any suspicion at bay.

He’d driven half the night to escape the scene of his latest crime and now risked being found elsewhere because he couldn’t keep his eyes open for another minute behind the wheel. This park seemed out of the way in the dark. In daylight, not so much.

A noticeable funk leaked out from between the pine slabs of the box, which drew the attention of a young boy who chased his ball across the blacktop. Brendan looked at the van and trailer when the ball bounced off its back bumper. His imagination put eyes within the wood’s natural grain and told him monsters peeked back at him from inside.

No wonder it smells so bad, he thought. Maybe a tiny ogre lives in there with his fish dinner he left out to rot in the sun. The boy grabbed his ball and backed away at a snail’s pace, fear having shifted him into slow motion. His stomach rolled at the thought of eating that stinky lunch instead of the PB&J that actually awaited him.

His grandmother hollered, “Brendan, get back over here.” She could see someone with long, greasy hair slumped against the driver’s window of the vehicle. Those dirty tresses smeared a streak down the film of its cigarette-yellowed surface. The body didn’t move. Brendan’s grandma presumed any manner of drug-addled state in which that person might be, maybe even a dead one, asleep behind the wheel at this time of day.

Their family couldn’t have known this picnic spot would bring them so close to a real-life monster who drove it there.

Brendan stood transfixed to stare at the timber he perceived was ogling at him. His mouth hung agape until his grandma yelled his name again, and he startled so abruptly he shoved the ball away from his body. It hit the driver door with a thud like a hammer pounding a tin can.

When the man shook awake, he whipped his filthy head from side to side as if to gather his bearings before he fixed his gaze on Brendan. A sneer curled from his lips to reveal brown teeth that could’ve recently gnawed away at rancid smelt, and the boy shook at realizing he was the target of that nasty smirk.

Brendan ran back to his grandparents, the front of his shorts dark from an accident not experienced since pre-school. The van’s ignition caught and tires spun to narrowly miss the boy in its path as it sped away to exit the park. It took a lot of soothing by Brendan’s grandmother to get him settled down enough to eat his sandwich and return to play afterward.

The family never heard the news story of the van driver later arrested for speeding and what, or rather who, the authorities uncovered inside the box on its trailer. Had Brendan’s curiosity gotten the better of him to lift the latch and look inside, his discovery would’ve certainly ruined everyone’s lunch. Although the kidnapping occurred several days prior, a garrote still surrounded the neck.

Our Write Side writing promptmiasma/stench

(photo: Wikipedia Commons)

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In Over Her Head

 

underwater.jpgThey watched the house through heat vapor that rose up from the road and waited impatiently as the family got ready to leave for vacation. First the fifth wheel appeared from its long metal carport like a snake shedding its skin, and the wealthy family began loading coolers and supplies. All the markings of those folks being out of town for quite awhile.

Terrance and Larry, sweat running down their faces, watched from the tree line beside the Thompsons’ driveway, far enough away to not be seen. The juvenile delinquents knew exactly when the neighbors drove away for their extended stay away, and the backyard swimming pool was no longer off limits to them. With temps well above 100, they’d sweltered the summer away and couldn’t wait to cool off in the precious water.

Larry screamed, “It’s ours now!” The other two followed his lead as he scrambled over the wooden fence. Any splinters gained soon to be soothed in chlorinated coolness. The boys stripped down to jump in wearing shorts, but Haley took hers off to swim in her tank top and undies.

She dove in the deep end and swam away from the boys as quickly as possible to the opposite side of the pool, kicked her thin legs up over the side, and lay back in the water with her rear end resting on the side wall. That position left her ears submerged and muffled the noise of those idiots as they splashed and dunked each other. The water muted their sluicing around and brought sweet relief from both the barrage of heat and constant volume of their nonsense. The tussle became a far off sound, another thing she could pretend wasn’t happening.

Reclined like that, the world faded away. Haley stared at the clouds as they drifted across her line of sight. One billowy mass formed the shape of Italy, the heeled boot across the great ocean, which made her smile. She closed both eyes and the image stayed imprinted inside her lids. I wish I could go there, she thought.

Haley wanted to stay in the water, enveloped in the sense of security it gave her. No worry about lack of air conditioning at her house. No thoughts of whether her mom and dad would be fighting when she got home.

Poolside, the boys argued about their plans for later. Terrance warned that a prolonged stay might raise the attention of other nosy neighbors and possibly the cops. He cautioned, “We better not stay here too long. ‘Sides, we got that party to go to across town.”

“I don’t think it’s no ghetto party,” Larry replied. “They might even have some free beer.”

Terrance gave the concrete beside Haley’s legs a hard thwack with his flattened palm. “You listenin’ to us, girl? We gots to go.”

Her eyes popped open with a start, and her calves scraped across the pavement to splash back in the water. “Whydya do that? You made me hurt myself!”

“Oh, boo hoo,” he told her. “That ain’t all that’s gonna hurt if you don’t hurry up. We gotta get outta these wet clothes. Come on!”

Haley pushed back off the side of the pool to go under water again and let its briskness embrace her one last time.

Our Write Side writing prompt – thwack

photo: Piscina by Daniel Lobo

 

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The Youngest One in Curls

15444909486_a0c87c381b_bJoleen woke with one eye fixed on faux wood-grain paneled wall of a tiny 4×4 room in her mother’s house trailer. Her tongue seemed velcroed to the roof of her mouth, and she had to think for a minute where she was. The room became another temporary stay-over after getting fired from her Sunoco cashier job and losing the old rental house. Inside her skull felt like a ball peen hammer rapped against the frontal lobe.

The other eye didn’t open, as it was swollen shut, another telltale sign of the previous night’s inebriation. Apparently a fist glued it closed when her loose lips pissed somebody off at the bar, a conversation the young woman couldn’t quite call to memory.

She yelled toward the bedroom door, “What the hell is all that racket?” The volume of her raspy voice intensified the headache she suddenly realized came from all the beers she lost count drinking.

No one answered her question, but the noise continued. Joleen started to question whether it was real or just the pounding of her headache. She tried again. “Anybody here?”

“You’re the one yelling,” Joleen’s mother answered from the adjacent bathroom. “That’s the only thing I hear, girl. I’m trying to enjoy some peace and quiet for a change.”

Her mother’s husband must’ve already left for the day, so the woman had retreated to the john instead of him for a change. Their house usually reeked to high heaven. With more than two adults squatting in a space that small, bathroom smells tend to stink up a place.

Joleen never imagined herself living with the pair of them. This certainly wasn’t what she’d envisioned for herself, her childhood hopes merely fairy tales of what she’d wished would come true. It wasn’t until much later she discovered everything they’d told her as a kid was a lie. Television, teachers, everybody touted the same bullshit philosophies.

Being so young and naive, she believed it all. Why should she think they fabricated the dream at the time? Experience taught her otherwise.

“Girl, you better get your ass outta that bed before that social worker gets here.” Her mother stood in the bedroom doorway zipping the fly of her pants. “If you want to keep up that unemployment check, wash that greasy hair and make yourself presentable. Show her something besides that shiner on your face.”

Joleen grumbled and covered her head with the blanket. “What happened to ya anyways? Looks like ya didn’t get the best of the situation,” the older woman chuckled. “Thought I learned ya better than that.”

“I don’t know exactly, but I don’t need you bitchin’ at me about it,” she answered sarcastically. “That rag social worker will be doing that soon enough. She’ll clean her car with bleach wipes when I get out of it whether I shower or not. Thinks I got lice or something.”

Her mom laughed out loud and turned around in the cramped hallway to retreat to the living room. A laugh-track of a Brady Bunch re-run rang out from the television.

“And turn that damn t.v. down. My head’s about to split open,” she spat at the woman’s back.Only another chuckle came in response.

The musical clatter of the show’s closing credits assaulted her eardrums, but at least its loudness subsided. The song, which she knew by heart, then mentally repeated with the beat of her temporal pulse.

“I wonder where you got yer glowing personality, Joleen,” her mom called. “Musta been yer daddy’s side.” Contempt leaked from her tone. “No wonder somebody dotted yer eye.”

“Oh, thanks, Momma. Your motherly love and concern warms my heart.” Joleen grumbled again, shot her the finger behind her back, and rolled over trying to sneak in just another five minutes to quell her throbbing forehead.

“I’m tellin’ ya. You best get outta there and wash yer ass, Joleen!” A sudden pounding slogged from the front door down the hall to yank her upright on the mattress.

“Oh, shit,” her mother guffawed. “Too late!”

 

*Our Write Side writing prompt: fabricated

(photo: Freaktography via Flickr)

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Out With a Bang

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“Look out or you’ll blow your damn fool fingers off,” Raleigh told her. He held the punk for her, but Lenay resented her boyfriend’s insinuation. She didn’t need him telling her how to do everything.

“I might look ignorant, but I’m not stupid,” she said. The girl knew how to handle a bottle rocket, had been in plenty of throwing wars with her brothers. At times it would be nice to have those boys around.

Raleigh acted so self-righteous, as if he could save her from herself or something. “You get one beer in ya and get all full of yourself, girl.” He tightened his grip around her forearm a little tighter like he usually did as a warning. Right before he began to get angry.

Lenay looked up when a burst of green and gold blew up in the sky over their car parked on the hill. Small trails of light filtered down from overhead and trickled through the darkness as if to land on treetops and set the woods ablaze. They had a great vantage point to watch the town fireworks display.

Not that the couple in the back seat noticed. The two groped at each other like dogs in heat. Quite a duo they made for a double-date.

She shot Raleigh her most flirtatious smile, which seemed to diffuse his temper, so she tugged her arm away. “Come on. This is supposed to be fun. Remember?”

“Just watch what yer doing, huh? I’m not driving you to the hospital.” That was probably the truth.

He might just let me bleed out, she thought. Leave me laying here for good, the bastard. “All I want is to shoot off some fireworks, Raleigh. Do some sparklers. Let’s enjoy ourselves for a change.”

Raleigh apologized the last time he got rough. Said he’d never do it again. Grabbing her arm like that didn’t seem like he was so sorry.

Another blast exploded overhead, this time blue and red, and spiraled outward from its point of detonation. She watched the tendrils of light drift downward and considered what the fireworks supposedly meant, what they celebrated.

“Hmmm, freedom,” she said out loud, more or less to herself.

Raleigh shook his head at her. “What the hell are you talking about? You’re freakin’ crazy.” She breathed deeply, exhaled, and bent over to dig in a brown paper bag of firecrackers.

Raleigh shouted toward the car, “And what the hell is wrong with you two?” He clenched his fists in front of his body, pumped his elbows back and forth in tandem with a forward and backward hip thrust, and guffawed loudly at himself. “Woohoo!”

Lenay suddenly felt fearless, even without her brothers to back her up. She tore the thin red paper from a pack of Black Cats to expose the fuse, set the bunch on the ground behind where Raleigh stood humping the air, and flicked her lighter to set it all on fire.

The eruption served as her favorite of the night, although she didn’t wait to watch Raleigh jump around and dodge the sparks. She’d have loved to see his hotfoot but was too busy turning the key and shifting her car into drive. The couple in the back seat finally sat up, suddenly startled. They grabbed ahold of the front seat as Lenay punched the gas and sped away, leaving Raleigh to his solo dance.

“Be careful, there, boy,” she told his reflection in the rearview mirror.

(image: Jdmoar)

Our Write Side writing prompt – fearless

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Live Entertainment

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With “Honkytonk Woman” playing on the jukebox, she was in a better mood than usual. Living a rough life like Lenay’s could turn a person sour. Her boyfriend reckoned she could use some special treatment now and then, so their agreeing on dinner at Millie’s Bar and Grill pleased her. The lights dimmed early and peanut shells littered the scuffed wood flooring, but she didn’t mind.

Hearing her kind of music seemed to make their choice the right one. Cheap-ass Raleigh even springing for the bill surprised her.

Millie made a tasty bowl of clam chowder, even if Lenay’s meal ended with having to see an old lady at the next table use a strategically-placed index fingernail to dig a last morsel from a cavernous back molar to savor it. Maybe missing that final bit of food would ruin the woman’s dining experience, but seeing the act added little but disgust to a fellow diner’s appetite.

Lenay’s soup roiled in her stomach. She wouldn’t be pejorative of another customer, though, especially some elderly stranger. No matter how disgusting the person’s actions seemed to her. She’d witnessed plenty of poor manners, including those of her brothers and boyfriend. Denture digging paled in comparison to snot rockets.

Raleigh, watching the woman use her crude toothpick, couldn’t help but comment. At his jaw’s first movement to speak, Lenay grabbed his wrist to stop him. “Just ignore it, Raleigh. Please don’t say anything.” Him being his usual ruffian self, he stayed true to form with an insult.

First, he rubbed a hand across two days’ scruff clustered on his chin and neck, then pushed back from the table. Rubberless feet of the chair legs scraped loudly across the floor and produced a screech that drowned all background noise and brought everyone’s attention. “You know that’s nasty, right?” All heads turned to see where the question was pointed.

He eyeballed the offending party and asked her, “Are you saving it for later? This joint might be a shit hole, but you don’t have to act like a pig in it.”

The septuagenarian stared at him blankly, his rude comment lost on her. She plunked her drink glass on the Formica tabletop with a flat thud, sucked on a final dollop between her teeth, and responded, “Huh?”

Lenay’s face burned as crimson as the tin Coca-Cola ad on the wall. She simply wanted a quiet night out, an open-faced beef sandwich and some good tunes being all it took to please her. Maybe a little Game Show Network when they got home. She didn’t ask for much.

A minute’s awkward silence filled the room before Raleigh finally stood. He audibly cleared his throat, hacked up a wad of phlegm, and spat it onto the floor beside him. “Come on, hon. Let’s get out of here.”

Lenay sheepishly followed him out the door.

(photo: Jill E. via Flickr)

“Our Write Side” writing prompt – pejorative

http://ourwriteside.com/that-wasnt-very-nice/

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Real-life Cameo

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I thought I saw Stan Lee driving down a back road in a red Honda late this afternoon. Same burly silver mustache and translucent skin, a ball cap bill hovering over eyeglasses leftover from the ’70s. He’d probably be driving an Accord, though, over of a standard, factory-straight Civic. So a person never knows. It could be him.

Doing a double-take, I threw it in reverse and whipped around to follow him. Wouldn’t Pete just about have a conniption when he found out I trailed the dude? But Pete wasn’t there to win me over with reasoned logic, and I had nowhere else to be anyway.

Heat rose up from the pavement ahead, but I could still see the Honda’s brake lights at a stop sign maybe a half-mile up the road. Snapping a pic as evidence might shut Pete up over the deal, him always calling me a liar. He would never believe me unless I got an autograph from his hero of super heroes, the thought of which coaxed my pressure on the gas to catch up. I couldn’t let him turn off without me seeing where the car went.

I leaned back toward the rear seat, swerved a bit as I did, and grappled to reach something for him to sign – a magazine, brochure, even a fast food receipt. Anything for his signature. Among all the crap there, not a comic to be found. What I’d give for just one Spider-Man, no matter how ratty.

The library would charge me a fortune for the novel I found nestled in the floorboard – the only paper my fingertips could purchase. Payment for a book meant nothing compared to Pete eating crow.

My junker started to shake at hitting 60 but shimmied to a halt behind the Honda’s dented rear quarter panel at a four-way stop. “Huh,” I thought, “you’d think he had enough money to get that fixed.”

With no time for such random speculation, I had to make a move. A fine line of sweat formed on my top lip. “People say he’s a nice guy, playing a part in all his superhero movies. Surely he’d give me a signature.” No others cars within sight, I stomped on it and bolted to the left, pulled up alongside, one hand on my steering wheel and the other rolling down the passenger window.

The decrepit driver’s body convulsed in surprise at the sudden move, perhaps frightened he was about to get jacked. He shoved the cap backward on his head to reveal a liver-spot-covered face definitely not that of Pete’s favorite comic author. The startled old guy’s mouth hung agape, and the emptiness of his toothless mouth sucked my gaze into its emptiness.

Our heads shook in simultaneous violent disbelief, and he gesticulated wildly. The codger yelled, “First the swerving, and now this! Whadda you want?”

After a beat, I waved in apology and peeled out in front of the Honda. Getting ahead of him and down the road meant I didn’t have to witness how long it took the man to recover from the surprise. Pete wouldn’t hear about the caper after all.

Two Word Tuesday prompt – conniption

Image via Nicholas A. Tonelli on Flickr

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A Mother’s Love

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They stoked up quite a kerfuffle right there in front of the principal’s secretary and several other parents. Angel’s thin frame shook in anger, cheekbones stabbing out through skin stretched over her hollowed-out face. She stood opposite her mother, Lilly’s grandmother, in a showdown just before the girl’s Kindergarten graduation was scheduled to begin. Two grown adults, mother and daughter, set to throw down.

Angel having been awake for 24 hours didn’t help her mental state. Her latest boyfriend kept her up the night before to sample his latest batch, which helped kindle the paranoia of her mother’s determination to get her six-year old taken away by Child Protective Services. She may not take the best care of Lilly, but she wouldn’t stand for anyone’s public criticism.

Lilly lived with her grandma, or the girl would’ve fended for herself the entire school year. Her momma might actually love her, too, but she loved her drugs of choice as much or more.

“What’s going on out here?” Mrs. Phillips rushed into the hallway at all the yelling to find the pair about to square off.

“I’ll be damned if that woman’s allowed in here to watch my baby’s program,” Angel said. “Can’t you see to it she’s kicked outta this school?” Her nose hovered so menacingly close to her mother’s that the rot from Angel’s teeth seemed the only thing keeping them apart.

The principal’s eyebrows arched, incredulous at the younger woman’s assumption. “Not if she’s Lilly’s legal guardian, Angel,” she replied. “And this altercation cannot happen here. You’re both going to need to settle down if you want to stay.” She glanced back and forth between the pair in search of any reaction to the contrary and noticed only a difference in weight and wrinkled skin between the two. Same bleached hair, same defensive demeanor. Angel might become a split image of her mother in a few years, if she lived to experience it.

Fortunately choosing seats on opposite sides the center aisle, the ceremony began without students or other audience members being any the wiser. “The show must go on, as they say,” Mrs. Phillips told her secretary. Unless someone moved out of the district before August, she’d have to deal with this kith and kin again all too soon in the new school year.

Thirteen children wearing miniature blue caps and gowns lined the wooden risers on the stage, and their families beamed up at them from folding chairs across the gymnasium floor. Cherubic Lilly grinned down from her row, and she raised a hand to wave at her grandma.

Our Write Side prompt: kerfuffle (one of my favorite words)

Photo: glasseyejack via Flickr

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Keeping House

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Patrice wouldn’t exactly call herself the domestic type, but James recognized that when he married her. Practically everyone who knew her realized the woman didn’t care to be a perfect housekeeper and cook.

That just wasn’t her thing, and she couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly be content to just care for her husband and kids. So many other activities tugged at her mind and begged, “Come this way. Do this instead.” Having a restless soul meant she agonized at staying still, and household duties dulled the senses, as far as Patrice was concerned.

On one occasion a man asked her, “Do you work outside the home?” She had to stifle a laugh before answering him. “Shit, as if working inside that place isn’t enough? And taking care of everything at the hardware store is just a trip to the carnival,” she mused. “Isn’t that a humdinger? I’ve got two full-time gigs going.”

True, their home had the trappings of a lower-middle class lifestyle – a front screen door with holes, manual garage door that didn’t open if it rained, and a taped-up window pane here and there —  but the man’s expression turned so sour when Patrice answered in such a surly manner. To her, having a job meant a steady check to manage the co-pays and balance left of what insurance didn’t cover from the doctors.

“Humpf, maybe he thinks you married the Queen of England, James. She just wanted to live in the country ghetto,” she muttered. Her husband shook his head but said nothing in return. He knew better with that mood showing. “It’s not like standing behind that counter listening to good ol’ boys grouse about nonsensical shit for eight hours straight isn’t bad enough.” Three extra-strength pain relievers didn’t even touch the headache she’d nursed all day.

Regardless of its center sinkhole, the mattress felt pretty soft when her head hit the pillow around 6 o’clock. Other nights it was as early as 5:30. Finding her with a washcloth drying across her forehead, a book splayed on the bed beside her, and eyes closed, James might leave a warm cup of broth on the night table. Many times, he just sat and rubbed her back before he left a glass of water there in case she woke up thirsty in the night.

Patrice contended somebody didn’t have to keep a meticulous house to be a whole woman. Theirs wasn’t actually a sty, maybe just more “lived-in” than others who hired a weekly cleaner. Having her in-laws look down their noses at her about it didn’t set well either. So what if dust crusted a few ceiling fan blades and little cat-hair tumbleweeds wound in behind the t.v. cabinet?

Priorities changed, and the couple no longer joined everyone for holiday dinners and birthdays. “I don’t appreciate their condescension, James. They think you’re Ethan Frome or something, I swear!” He felt for her and did as much as possible to ease her worry and suffering. Daily life became a shared effort in their home, as it should be anywhere, in Patrice’s opinion. Why shouldn’t everyone play a part?

Family members weren’t as vocal about Patrice’s taciturn inclination once she went into hospice care.

“She woulda liked to see you and the kids a little more while she was living. ‘Specially since she thought so much of little Annie.” James rubbed the brown curls on his niece’s head.

“At least the day turned out nice for her service, though” he said leaving the graveside. Gravel crunched under his dress shoes and covered the siblings’ awkward silence on their way to separate cars. His sister’s furrowed brow hinted at remorse. He thought to himself, “Wouldn’t Patrice have snickered at that?”

James drove home in dread of a floor that needed swept and dirty dishes that awaited him there. Those things and a pile of unpaid bills on the table in an otherwise empty kitchen.

Our Write Side – Two Word Tuesday

(photo courtesy Old White Truck)

 

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