If the Shoe Fits

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He held the lead rope in his hand and asked, “You want me to guide you around the yard for a little while you get used to her?” Casey sat atop the chestnut mare and looked down on him incredulously. Her familiarity might be somewhat limited, but she certainly didn’t need his help finding her way around a saddle.

“I think I can handle it,” she sarcastically replied. Maybe he was just trying to be nice to his guest, but she wasn’t 12 years old for Pete’s sake. The quickness with which she snatched the reins surely clued him in on her exasperation. He shrugged his shoulders, one raised eyebrow hinting his surprised reaction to her haughty remark.

The equestrian art might be arcane to some, she thought, but she knew the basics. Casey didn’t need help mounting to ride, even with the animal at 14 hands’ height, and she wouldn’t ask for it even if she did. Pride got in the way of appreciation for being invited on the ride.

She’d driven in from the city for the day but had grown up around livestock and knew what to do and not do around large animals. Maybe a total newbie wouldn’t see a difference between a halter and a bridle or know a cinch strap from a bit. Casey didn’t claim to be a caballera, but she knew that much.

Perhaps the man insinuated nothing with his remark, but she took offense to it anyway. A horse warns of its anger by pressing its ears back. Only an idiot would walk behind one and its potentially lethal back legs. Some common sense measures like that stood out in her mind. He had no idea how much she knew, but she still got perturbed at him assuming her ignorant.

“So, then why am I getting so defensive?” she asked herself. Her host walked away across the paddock, dust from his boots rising up behind him, a brown cloud in his wake. Maybe he wanted to kick that chip off her shoulder with his scuffed Tony Lamas, manure encrusted in the heels.

Lost in her own inner monologue, Casey jumped when a dog’s yip brought her suddenly back to the present. She shook away the daydream and spied a terrier mix prancing around in circles on the ground below.

The dog’s short spotted legs propelled it upward to nip at her feet, surprisingly high considering the location of the stirrups. Casey drew up her toes, with their brightly-polished magenta nails detailed in tiny white daisies during her recent pedicure. Looking down to ponder her flip flops, she muttered, “Huh, no wonder.”

**

Studio30+ writing prompt – arcane Studio30

Image: Paw Nation

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Self Help

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The bright azure sky ensconced sparse clouds – one shaped in a way that slightly resembled a jack rabbit sitting on its haunches. She sat slumped in the front seat on her mother’s car as it sped down the highway toward home and pondered the rabbit cloud’s dissolution into a blurred bunny that eventually faded away into nothingness. The young woman felt as smeared as that aerial vapor and wished she could melt into the tan foam of the bench car seat.

She remained reticent while her mother yammered away from behind the wheel, asking her how she felt, almost demanding to know her status from minute to minute. Glaring in her direction didn’t slow the pace of the older woman’s diatribe, as if the ride home from the hospital weren’t torturous enough. Ava had to listen to this maternal needling, too. Insult upon self-imposed injury.

Mom claimed to simply want the best for her and would provide it for Ava at home, as if her daughter had a choice in the matter. Through therapy, the medical team surmised she most likely wouldn’t hurt herself again and acquiesced to release her to her mother’s care.

Experiencing more of the woman’s ultra-protective oversight made Ava question whether staying there would be best or not. She drew her legs up out of the floorboard and pulled her knees to her chest. Leaning over to hug them close into her, she turned her head and gazed out the passenger window to purposefully will her mother’s voice out of her consciousness.

“Could you just lighten up, Mom?” she begged. Ignoring the comments wasn’t going to work. The best wishes and unending euphemisms continued non-stop. “Things aren’t really that bad. You just have to think positive. Everything’s going to work out. It’s going to be all right. You’ll see. Things will be fine once you’re home. I promise.”

All the advice in the world only mangled the already racing thoughts. Ava opened one eye to peer sideways at the monologue’s source, saw only a mouth incessantly opening and closing, and tried to concentrate on her own thoughts. “Stop, stop, stop,” she repeated inwardly to block out all other noise.

An SUV travelled in the right lane next to their car, and she watched it gain speed to pass them. Stickers emblazoned the back bumper, and an oval-shaped decal on the top right of the window bragged of how many miles the driver apparently ran in a race. Ava remembered one of her doctors had encouraged her to exercise for the natural endorphins, to maybe taking up running.

“If only it was that easy,” she thought. She couldn’t stand those suggestions. That SUV driver also annoyed her.

Ava’s inner train of thought paused long enough for her to hear, “I only want what’s best for you, my love, and will do anything I can to help. I wish I could fix your situation and will never give up on you.”

She wanted to feel better about herself, life, her family, work … even her mother. She knew she had to find way to do so or she wasn’t going to make it.

The car stopped, and Ava realized they’d arrived at home. Her mom put the gear shift into “park” and turned off the ignition. She looked at her daughter ruefully and told her, “I love you, sweetheart.”

Ava faintly smiled and said, “I know, Mom. I know.”

***

Studio 30+ writing prompt – reticent Studio30

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The Company You Keep

vending - Neff Conder

Suzanne asked me, “Does it count as saving someone’s life if you just refrain from killing them?” I thought she was joking but felt her steel gray desperation.

We’d worked together only a couple months when she made the comment. I sensed her discontent with customer service before but thought it nothing serious. Perhaps her true feelings got lost in her patois. She often said things that didn’t fully make sense, perhaps intentionally. Most of the time, it sounded like meaningless jibber jabber.

The skin of her forearms squeaked across the sticky veneer top of the break room table as she leaned in closer to confide her secrets at closer range. She cleared her throat nervously and said, “You know I’m just joking, right?” A heavy hank of brunette bangs tucked behind her ear fell forward and created a welcome, if not flimsy, barrier between her gaze and my own. “I think I saw that in a cartoon once,” she tried justifying.

Those conversations made me a tad nervous. I stared beyond her at my reflection in the vending machine glass instead of looking Suzanne in the eye. Considering the calories in a chocolate wafer package came easier than contemplating her brand of crazy.

What if she actually went through with one of these quasi-threats and I’d been privy to the act beforehand? I hoped to not be held culpable.

She looked at me, waiting for an answer. As the center of her intense attention, I blanked on what she’d asked and remained silent. Only the second hand’s tick of the clock on the adjacent wall interrupted the stillness. I glanced around to make sure no one saw us eating together before I threw away my lunch remains and returned to work.

Weeks later the front door security code changed, indicating someone had quit or been fired. I honestly didn’t suspect it might be Suzanne until the office grapevine’s tangle reached my cubicle in late afternoon. Garry whispered from across the partition between us, “Psst … you hear about Suzanne?”

I wheeled my office chair to the wall’s opening and bumped its casters over power cords stretched across the threshold, my greed for fresh gossip a little too obvious as I leaned hungrily into Garry’s space. “What happened?” I inquired, wide-eyed.

“It’s all hush hush, but Janet told in H.R. me about it,” he said. “Sure,” I responded. “She sent out the email about the new code, so she’d know. What gives?”

We’d heard how Suzanne couldn’t stand her supervisor and found the menial tasks he assigned degrading to her level of self-importance. “Well, you realize she hated Myers, right?” I shook my head knowingly, my interest piqued.

Garry continued, “She came to work last week dressed in a Girl Scout uniform, a few sizes too small at that.” I gawked at him in disbelief. “Myers made Janet call her in to discuss appropriate professional attire, but Suzanne said if she was meant to ‘serve mankind’ then she would dress like it. Needless to say, they let her go.”

I shook my head, hardly knowing how to react. “She really was a whackadoodle, eh?” In retrospect, I felt relieved for not associating with Suzanne in the breakroom any more than I had.

“You don’t know the half of it, girl,” Garry said. He seemed to love telling the story to its climax. “On Monday morning Myers finally found the source of the horrible stench in his office he’d been smelling since the week prior. He had Custodial Services search the place until they turned his chair upside and found a dead mouse taped to the bottom of the seat.”

Doubt entered my mind. “But anybody could’ve done that,” I proposed. “Nobody really likes Myers.” We both nodded in agreement, and I shrugged, but Garry raised a finger to make his point. “The poor thing had a little green ‘Life Saving’ badge pinned to it … just like the ones on a Girl Scout uniform.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – patois

image: Neff Conner via Flickr  Studio30

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A dish best served cold

A corporate farm’s intrusive threat loomed for years but only now became a reality. Platte heard rumors that eventually came true. The company was coming in next door. Once Darnell Wheaton’s widow died, their land went up for sale and was immediately snatched by a company from outside the state. Corporate farming had moved in, and the neighbors weren’t happy about it.12662848663_b1a625de55_o

Platte Keltner stood at the back door smoking a cigarette to watch the final stage of construction that made the project across his rear acreage complete. Resentment sent bile up from his stomach as he saw a crane lift the large sign over the entrance drive, “Pork Partners” emblazoned in bold lettering. He’d heard of effluent seeping onto nearby properties and polluting the groundwater on adjoining land.

Management might claim safe cesspool storage and self-contained barns that wouldn’t affect the quality of life nearby, but situations elsewhere were showing otherwise. At the very least, the surrounding area would stink to high heaven. Having a factory swine farm just next door meant the air would stink of shit and make life outside unbearable in summertime. Property values would shrink and discontent proportionately grow.

Platte Keltner’s property was his birthright, and he’d protect it at any cost. Their family place at Benton Creek had come to him down through inheritance by default after everyone else’s death, and the Keltner family nearly lost it in probate court. Its bucolic setting masqueraded turmoil boiling below the surface.

As a boy, Platte skipped stones across the pond with his brother and hunted all manner of small game there. They romped over foothills and across the rock-filled soil of fields not otherwise suited for planting decent crops. No amount of hog manure pumped over from Mr. Wheaton’s lagoon would make that land fertile enough to be productive again, but Keltner wanted to continue living there. He wanted his kids to stay there after he was gone.

He went to see his brother, stuck in County lockup, to tell him of the predicament with their inheritance. He’d taken possession of the place during Jared’s incarceration. Their grandpa’s legacy hung in a lurch.

“Man, you’re better off in here with what I got planned,” Platte told him a sly smile spreading across his unshaven face. Jared told him, “You need help fixin’ the situation, you let me know. I got some guys on the street that owe me. Maybe it’s time to call in some favors.” Revenge was nothing new to the older Keltner brother. Similar stupidness caught him the latest charges that had him facing three to five up in the state pen. Platte thought better of involving Jared, as the guy had enough trouble of his own.

He’d gotten the company squib by mail after the fact. A form letter explained their intentions, feigned sincerity and professed hopes of a peaceful existence in community. Funny, the DNR recommended sharing a warning with the neighbors beforehand. Pork Partners’ barns already stood as eyesores for a half-mile in any direction, the effuse wafting into the sky exponentially. Their shameful missive came too late to create any scrap of good will. Platte waited until nightfall before he put his plan in motion. He held the letter between two fingers and watched flames lick the corporate letterhead before dropping the paper’s remains into a burn barrel.

Taking advantage of scrub cedars that lined the fence, he made sure to hide in their cover as he trekked across the field to an endless row of barns. A cacophony of grunts, moans and squeals accompanied an overwhelming odor of shit that met his senses upon reaching the massive complex. Regardless of the number, Platte moved stealthily from one building to the next searching for the exhaust output. He felt he’d never reach the end as he aimed high to stuff fistful after fistful of mud into vents, essentially sealing the hogs into their own quagmire of filth. Working all night insured the fans brought no fresh air in and no stench escaped.

The atmosphere within those walls would ferment upon itself, or so he hoped, until first light when the caretaker opened each door to a blast of fetor. No discernible fingerprints left behind meant no evidence traceable to Platte, while he laughed at the harm he’d cast in retaliation. In actuality, sick swine greeted the farmer along with their stink. The heat and methane within caused weakness in some and possible meat spoilage in others, with no way to tell the difference between the conditions. Keltner never knew for sure but hoped he’d helped kill off many of them before the animals could be sent off for slaughter. Sympathy for casualties held no position in his conscience, if he had any. 5538107000_b140e90529_o

Security systems later installed warded off any future sabotage, but only after Keltner felt a small pang of satisfaction. He blinked at the brightness of pole lights and crushed out his last cigarette of the day before going inside from his spiteful perch on the back porch where he glared over at the adjacent farm. The man felt triumphant at an extra expense he’d caused them to install those lights.

Upon closing the window blinds every night there forward Platte damned the luminance cascading directly into his bedroom. But he laughed each time he spun the control to shut those plastic shades and darken his house.

He laughed when he visited his brother that week to recount the tale of what he’d done. Jared snorted and said, “Just shoot the damn bulbs out. That’ll put a stop to that business.” Platte told him, “Nah. My luck I’d end up in here right alongside you for some silly ass vandalism wrap.” They both chuckled at the notion.

He went on, “Let their electricity run every day and night for all I care. I hope it chips at every penny in profit they ever stand to make.” His stubbornness outweighed Platte’s desire for atmosphere. He’d stay on the Keltner home place, and no amount of stench could make him leave.

**

Studio 30+ writing prompt – bucolic

Studio30images:  Waterkeeper Alliance & frankieleon  (respectively) on Flickr – Creative Commons

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Partners in Crime

untitled (5) Trevor and Nicky became friends when they first started school. Most everyone in Titusville knew each other, but these two were best buddies since five years old. A slight little imp, Nicky hadn’t grown a whole lot since they met playing kickball on the Kindergarten playground. Trevor stood up for him any time someone picked on the little guy, so Nicky figured he owed him. No one chose Nicky when splitting up teams in gym class, but Trevor always called his name first if he was captain.

Nicky idolized the bigger boy and didn’t judge him for his family’s station in life. He didn’t care if Trevor’s clothes were dirty or his hair hadn’t been cut since summer time. None of that mattered to him. He followed Trevor’s lead and tried to kiss girls at recess as they ran screaming for a teacher’s help. Every time the ring leader ended up in the principal’s office, his mischief brought Nicky right along in tow.

Their small town had a main street running its length, a lone grocery store at the end with a single cash register just inside the front door. Mr. Walker ran the place after his father died and left it to him, but the man was old enough to be dead himself. Kids took advantage of his bad hearing and pop-bottle eyeglasses in giving themselves five-finger discounts at the store. Trevor and Nicky were no exception.

Trevor wielded a weekend supply backpack from a local charity. It sagged with canned goods to give him something to eat when he wasn’t at school, something otherwise not available to him at home. But a supper of Skettios lacked the appeal of malted chocolate balls and red hot gummies there for the taking at Mr. Walker’s store.

“It won’t hurt no one, Nicky,” he’d say. “That old guy’s rich. Don’t you see his Cadillac parked out back? He’s got money to spare.” The boy usually stole out of necessity, but he sometimes turned the process into a nonsense game to pretend his plight wasn’t so serious. If he could persuade Nicky of that being true, maybe he could convince himself.

Nicky, on the other hand, held a healthy sense of guilt and a gut full of holy roller fear. He told his friend, “My grandma knows Mr. Walker. She’ll ask the preacher to send us straight to H – E – double hockey sticks if she knows we was stealing from his store.”

Trevor’s overblown confidence grew from being dirt poor, but his desperation gave him a bravado otherwise foreign to any other kid his age. He also realized how to work his friend’s lack of self-confidence and quipped, “Come on, Nicky. Quit being such a baby.” He appointed Nicky as look-out and told him to distract Mr. Walker with his gift for babble.

Nicky asked, “Well, whaddaya want me to say to ‘em?” Big brown eyes bugged out of a disproportionate head that almost capsized his stick-thin body and mimicked the look of a bobble head doll he once got as a freebie at the AAA ball game down in Florrisant. The bolder boy told him, “Just start talkin’ – talk about the weather. That always works with the old ones.”

The thieving pair never imagined Walker might have a .22 hidden under the counter. His livelihood would be at stake if he didn’t. All the business owners in town started packing after the Skelly station out on the state highway got robbed. Nobody paid any mind to the fact $80 and a multi-pack of Skoal had been the only things stolen in the incident. “Better safe than sorry,” they all said. Mr. Walker felt the same way.

Nicky’s distraction lasted long enough to allow Trevor to make a run for the door, pockets stuffed with candy. The proprietor only saw a vague figure flying out the front with a bulging backpack flailing behind it.

The man barrelled out from behind the counter. He’d grabbed the gun from below the register and swung it out wide, knocking Nicky to the floor in the process. Walker’s poor eyesight hindered his aim. A wild shot followed no precise path and, lucky for Trevor, didn’t meet its loosely intended mark. It did, however, catch a can of vegetable soup amongst the goods in the Eastpak bag the boy pulled through the air in his flight from the store.

Nicky found his footing and made it outside the store, where he discovered his friend face forward and flat on the sidewalk with his splayed limbs marking an “X” where he lay. Two perfect holes in his backpack showed where a bullet pierced the fabric, with thick red liquid flowing where the soup trickled out from the exit. Nicky feared the worst and screamed out for his friend, “Trevor, NO!”

He didn’t know soup from blood and fell to the ground next to his best friend. The boy grabbed handfuls of bubble gum from the ground where it fell from Trevor’s pocket and chucked it forcefully back to the storefront. “No! Don’t die, Trevor!” He cried, “It wasn’t worth it.”

Trevor recovered well enough to roll over and grab Nicky. He shook the boy to bring him back to his senses. “It’s okay! I’m still here,” he assured him. “Don’t worry. I ain’t goin’ to Hell. Not yet anyway.”

Studio30 weekly writing prompt – babble (image: http://www.desktopwallpapers4.me)

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Old Habits

800px-Fat_cat_sleepingBeatrice heard her stiff joints crackle as she stood up from bed and began to creep across the hardwood floor, its chill not helping the arthritis in her feet. Those old limbs didn’t work near as well as they used to but carried her body across the short distances she needed.

She walked into the living room where she’d sat at opposite ends of the couch from her late husband in virtual silence for the last several years before he finally went home to meet his maker a month prior. How many times had she stared at his unfortunate face from that distance while he loudly solved the puzzle on that t.v. game show he obsessively watched? “Stupid bastard,” the woman mumbled to herself, thinking of Vaughn. “He was never any good at the bonus round either.” Thoughts of him brought bad memories and bile backed up in her throat. It was too early in the morning for such ugly thoughts.

Vaughn hadn’t always been such a schmuck. Some quality besides his hubris and those blue eyes must have originally attracted her to the man. His charm drew her in, but that charisma quickly morphed into plain conceit. A baby soon on the way meant she stayed with her husband and tried the make the best of things. “You’ve got someone to worry with besides yourself now, girl,” her mother told her. Bea knew it was the truth.

Little Leon loved his daddy, and Vaughn likewise doted on him. It was enough to keep Beatrice in the marriage, but her husband paid more attention to the television than he did her. He certainly spent more time at the office than home but more so for the company of his pretty blond co-worker than any task their boss assigned. Vaughn’s hinky actions became easy to read, and Beatrice wasn’t stupid. Heeding Momma’s advice, though, she stayed for the duration.

By the time Vaughn retired, their son was long gone. Leon had his own aspirations, and Beatrice wanted him to live the way she’d wished for herself – to travel, see the Eiffel Tower or those pyramids over in Egypt – to go somewhere besides here. She wondered if she’d stayed with Vaughn just to spite the man or if they simply shared the bad habit of one another.

A thick strand of her once jet black hair fell in front of her eye. It was now coarse and the color of steel but still accented her startling green eyes. Vaughn called them bewitching and once said she’d vexed him. She never believed that to be the case. Instead, truly the opposite. He’d tricked her with his charming ways and made her fall as much in love with him as he was with himself. “That narcissist probably took a hand mirror with him to his coffin,” she reported out loud to nobody in particular.

A big tabby cat was the only one there to listen, and it languished across the armchair, paying her only the slightest attention. “Ya probably learned those ways from him,” she told the feline. “Ya preen yourself all day long, and lay there pretending like ya don’t hear a word I say. Both a ya considered yourselves the center of the universe.” The old cat paid her no mind and closed the one eye it opened only to verify someone else’s presence in the room. It barely noticed Vaughn’s absence either.

“That’s okay,” she said. “Just ignore me. I’m used to it.” Beatrice sniffed derisively and looked out the window. The street view from the sofa where she usually sat pleased her. “I’ll perch right here, thank ya very much.” She half-heartedly chuckled. She normally amused herself that way, wouldn’t depend on anyone else to do it for her, even if it meant watching the world go by from the living room’s confines.

A satisfied smile crossed her wrinkled face, the skin soft but creased from years of sour expressions settling in on it. Hers wasn’t an unhappy existence. She finally had what she wanted — a quiet, peaceful life. She didn’t even have to compete with the television any more to get it.

*writing prompt “hubris/conceit” from Studio 30+ Studio30 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

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The Price of Pain

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It smelled as if a janitor tried to clean up someone’s sickness in a school hallway and only managed to mix the stench with Pine Sol to a harsher concentration. The odor overwhelmed them upon entering the gray waiting room.

Jewel asked the receptionist, “You take walk-in appointments, right?” As a mother, she was torn. Her daughter’s illness made going to the doctor a necessity. Their lack of health insurance and no expendable income, however, drew that same old feeling of dread from her center. She had no choice but to take Marissa to the free clinic.

This was the first, and she hoped only, time she had to enter the building. She’d seen the sign outside before but thought it a mystical conclave with which she hoped to never become acquainted. Once when Marissa asked her about the place as they passed it on the street, she told her, “That’s where poor people go when they’re sick.” Now, they were the proverbial poor among whose ranks she’d previously never imagined being.

“Yes, the doctor will see you without an appointment,” the woman behind the desk told her. Jewel shook her head, stating, “Actually it’s my daughter who needs to be seen.” She pulled the girl closer to her, hugging Marissa around the shoulders in a grasp of protection.

The receptionist leaned closer to Jewel, nodded toward the young girl, and asked sheepishly, “Does she need a pregnancy test?” Marissa was appalled and blurted out, “NO, she doesn’t need a pregnancy test! She’s 12 years old, and she’s sick! It’s probably the flu.” Jewel didn’t try to disguise her indignant tone.

The woman simply raised an eyebrow in reply. She waved a clipboard toward the waiting room and said, “You can fill out this form and have a seat over there until we call your name.”

Jewel snatched the paperwork away from her and led Marissa toward the scantily-furnished area. Plastic chairs that may have once been white offered little welcome, and she hoped their uncomfortable stay there proved as short as possible. A faded landscape framed on the wall looked as lonely as their surroundings.

While filling in the required information, Jewel looked at the other people around the room. An older couple sat silently in the next line of seats looking downtrodden and serious, their gnarled hands clasped in each other’s grasp. Further down the row, a mother scolded the toddler circling her seat clad only in a t-shirt and diaper. Jewel noticed a brown streak running down the child’s leg and onto the linoleum floor and wondered if it the liquid might only be melted chocolate.

An elbow nudge in her ribs brought her back to the moment. “Mom,” Marissa whispered to her. “Why did the lady ask about a pregnancy test?” The confusion in her daughter’s face saddened her even more than their environment.

She brushed Marissa’s warm forehead lightly with the back of her hand and told her, “I don’t know, sweetheart. Some people just take certain things for granted. Don’t worry about that now. I just want you to feel better.”

**

Studio 30+ writing prompt – conclave Studio30

Image via Erich Ferdinand – Flickr Creative Commons

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Reverance

untitled (4) She kept her head bowed in what she hoped was an acceptable fashion in the congregation, especially to her mother and Brother Welks. Eleven-year old Angelique felt caviled by adults and relegated to silence during the service. The pastor’s deep baritone blasting from the pulpit almost demanded respect and adherence. Such high expectations meant the girl could expect a sound thump on her head if she dared utter a peep during the prayer.

Her eyes cast downward, she glanced to her right where Mr. Lundgren sat with his leg twitching a mile a minute. “He must be as bored as I am,” thought Angelique, pondering the nervous jitter. The polyester of his gray perma-press pant legs jumped up and down, the solid seams pointing in the direction of the hymnal rack attached to the pew in front of him. Lundgren’s wife sat beside him, her hands lay splayed across her lap and open in upturned supplication. The elderly couple bemused Angelique, and she emitted a tiny snort of ponder before she could stop herself.

A sharp flick of her mother’s middle digit and thumb shocked her back into submission quick as a wink. All it took was a quip of “Ssst,” just like a snake, to quiet Angelique, who quickly looked back down at her own legs. As the preacher’s words continued, the girl clenched her fingers more tightly around each other.

Walnut creaked under the heavy load of parishioners in the pew, and they shuffled in their uncomfortable seats. Angelique’s little body fidgeted for a minute, her bottom wiggling for a new position. She agonized, “How many more minutes? How many more minutes?”

The girl sensed a whiff of vegetable soup and wondered if the church ladies fixed an after-service meal. An acrid mix of Campbell’s tomato base laced with a toxic sodium level invaded her nostrils and took her thoughts back to their kitchen at home. She so longed to return to her new Shaun Cassidy album and whatever lunch her mother had in store there.

A woman beside her mother sniffed audibly, so Angelique opened her eyes again to steal a sideways peek. Miss Harriet sat stock still with spindly fingers cupped in prayer, ropy blue veins bulging out from the pressure of her grip. A splash of water dropped onto them, and Angelique’s curiosity outweighed her better judgment. She spied a tear rolling down Miss Harriet’s age-spotted cheek, and it saddened her.

She nudged her mother and whispered, “Momma, somethin’ is wrong with Miss Harriet.” The surly woman’s quick snap and disapproving look were all it took for her daughter to realize her error. Such admonishment spurred Angelique to dread waking up on Sunday mornings. Now witnessing someone cry in church reinforced that desire to instead be home in her bed reading a Nancy Drew mystery or perched on the sofa watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. She’d much rather hear Marlin Perkins talk about lion cubs than someone drone on about the wages of sin.

A hard slap of Brother Welks’ hand against the speaker stand made Angelique jump in the pew. She gasped for breath, tightened the squeeze of her fingers, and asked God for release from the church’s sanctuary. They’d all be set free upon utterance of the morning’s final “Amen.” The pastor prayed and persuaded all he could, but no one took the invitation to come forward, so his job remained unfinished.

Another whiff of soup blew past Angelique’s face. Imagining the taste of Saltines in her mouth made the girl lick her lips in anticipation, and a hungry grumble stirred in her stomach. She knew all the words to Hey, Deanie and couldn’t wait to get to her record player to hear them again. Her mother grasped Angelique’s hand and tugged her to standing so they could finally follow everyone else out.

Miss Harriet had already left the row and made it to the exit by then. She even beat the pastor to the door where he always greeted parishioners upon their exodus from the building. The poor woman wouldn’t have a chance to shake his hand in passing.

**

This week’s Studio 30+ writing prompt was quip.

Studio30 Image Credit: lenwilson.us via Creative Commons

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Frenemies

imagesR2TX8I3R Team sports were never my thing. They seemed to be for the goody, goody kids. The ones who studied all the time and still went to church as teenagers. Not that I was a bad kid. We just partied too much for our own good. Truthfully, it probably took more effort than I was willing to expend.

My son’s a likable little fella. When he was starting Kindergarten a couple years ago, I asked him how he thought he might go about meeting classmates on his first day. He said he would walk up to someone and propose, “Hey, you wanna be my friend? I’m a pretty good guy.” So sweet, and so naïve.

It wasn’t long before he was in full-on sports mode. He wanted to play all varieties of ball, which is fine until kids start getting hurt. Both physically and emotionally.

The concept of becoming a team was innocent enough at first. They learned the basics of the games, supposedly got schooled on sportsmanship, but also quickly fell into the dynamics of society at large — the fundamentals of not only the sport being played but how people act in groups. Groupthink. Behavior that became another lesson to learn along the way.

These boys already split off into factions that gang up on each other, pair up and pick on someone else they sense as weaker. A more sensitive boys perhaps, like my son. He tells me things some kids say that break a mom’s heart. I thought the stereotype fell on mean girls and didn’t appear until around middle school.

Some of the kids are great, and he excitedly went to a teammate’s 8th birthday party at a pool. Other teammates being there meant he felt a little less out of place with the birthday boy’s unfamiliar friends from school. I watched my boy making his way around the water, looking for a trustworthy playmate.

One of those so-called buddies didn’t act like one at the party. He pushed him up the stairs to the slide to make another boy laugh. My son told him repeatedly to stop it, but the other kid just mockingly parroted him. What a friend.

My gaze drifted in the direction of an older lady who ambled into the pool area in a terry cloth swimsuit cover-up. Her struggling gait made me doubt whether she could wind her way through all the short scrambling legs that rushed to the poles where pails showered water down on their heads. I wonder if the woman had a child she had worried about the way I do mine.

I realize kids can be crappy. My own son may act bad when I’m not looking. But this isn’t the first time that particular kid was a little shit as soon as his parents, whom I like well enough, had turned their heads. He curses, calls names. I kind of hope he’ll be shiftless and still living in their basement one day instead of going to college. Maybe not.

My immature and more uncivilized side urges me to suggest retaliation. Another part of me says situations like these will help guide his moral compass in the right direction and build my guy’s character. As a young girl, I had no coach tell me about being a good sport or give instructions on how to not let it bother me when people you think you know don’t act like you’re on the same team. I wish I could simply give my son a game plan to help him in all the gray areas. If only there was such a thing I could buy for myself so we could both learn how to come out victors in life.

**

This week’s Studio 30+ writing prompt “shiftless.” (image from zoomwalls.com) Studio30

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Baby steps

option4 Ivy stared at the foam from the shaving cream drizzling down her right leg as it circled the drain. She wondered how long it’d been since she last used a razor. At least two weeks from the looks of the thick, black stubble. More pressing issues occupied her mind lately — or at least they seemed increasingly important in her head.

Living with random negative thoughts inside her head proved the main problem. Ivy’s catastrophizing of manners that other people appeared to easily handle got the best of her. Realizing she lacked coping skills didn’t help her situation any.

Life was actually good. No specific cause brought on such self-doubt and constant anxiety. No one particular reason caused the incessant worry she dealt with almost every day of her life, yet her body teemed with cortisol from grossly exaggerated stressors. It felt like a constant case of “fight or flight syndrome.” The quickest release from that mental hold was to escape into sleep, easing an almost textbook clinical depression diagnosis.

She inwardly cursed herself for becoming a statistic, the typical angst-ridden teen back in college who put on the “freshman fifteen” that later became a troubling twenty pounds remaining on her former slight frame. Forever tugging at her waistband, never comfortable with how she looked, she shamed herself with each bite taken. “I shouldn’t be eating this,” said the inner critic. “You ought to be exercising.” Hatred for her own appearance took its toll.

Every such failure blew up in extreme proportions. Lack of will power. No initiative to advance. Not that anyone else thought these relatively miniscule hiccups such a big damn deal. Only to her, her own worst enemy.

Nothing came soon enough, quick enough, easy enough. She hadn’t reached career and personal goals yet and felt she may never get there. None of her friends had such a heavy cloud hanging above them, an ever-present portent of doom. Ivy turned up the radio on her commute to drown out thoughts of another boring day at the job she’d never love.

The elusive path to happiness, though actually tread one step at a time, stretched ominously in front of her. Almost every day she asked the universe if she’d ever get there. Funny, no one else probably suspected the inner demons she fought, her private war, since she kept up a brave — if not fraudulent — face in public.

A faint buzzing in the background brought her back to awareness when she stepped out of the shower. The cell phone’s vibration atop her wooden dresser, rather than its ringtone, snapped her back. She unenthusiastically answered, “Hullo,” into the bright plastic ladybug that encased her phone. She bought the cover on one of the pick-me-up shopping trips designed to bring on a good mood that usually lasted about as long as the drive home.

Cara’s voice came across light and chipper. Too exhaustingly full of life for Ivy’s liking. “Hey, girl,” her friend quipped, “wanna go for a walk with me? We need to soak in a little Vitamin D from all this sunshine!” Her invitation fell flat.

She drew back the heavy bedroom curtain and answered the question with one of her own, “Is it sunny out today?” She blinked at he bright light bursting forth from behind the fabric.

A happier tone than her own practically pulled Ivy to an alternate world through the telephone line. “Come on,” pleaded Cara. “You have to get out of the house today. It’s the weekend.”

Ivy opened the lingerie drawer in front of her to pull out a jog bra and some socks. She glanced down at a trickle of blood on her thigh bone where she’d unknowingly nicked herself. For at least this one moment, she wouldn’t let it get to her.

With a heavy sigh, Ivy acquiesced, “I’ll meet you at the park in 20 minutes.”

***

This week Studio 30+ offered up a writing prompt of “portent.”  Studio30

Image: http://www.cam.ac.uk

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