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I Feel Fine

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Sherrell bid the year adieu at midnight with a resounding, “Good riddance!” as she gulped the dregs of her gin-and-tonic in a final act of defiance against the year now finished. Gripping the highball glass in her hand, she resisted throwing it against the wall to drive home the point. Surviving the prior 365 days, regardless of its physical and emotional difficulties wracked upon her, required all the willpower she’d been able to muster.  

All other party-goers around the room raised their drinks to toast the incoming new year, circled noisemakers in the air, and blew paper horns in celebration. She silently envied their jubilation and wished she shared such a sense of optimism. The next 12 months surely held a more positive outcome, if only she could imagine it.

Her friend, Frank, grabbed Sherrell’s hand to swing her around. “Come on, Sher, let’s dance! ”

Frank talked her into coming to the party regardless of all her excuses meant to avoid it. “No, thanks,” she told him. “I’m going to just grab a drink.” She turned her empty glass upside down to emphasize the point, suddenly glad she hadn’t catapulted it into the wall after all.

He wouldn’t let go of her hand, though. “You’re divorced now. It’s time you had some fun!”

If that springtime change hadn’t been enough, a car accident in late June caused so many lost days at work they let Sherrell go. “I’m too exhausted, Frank. My new job has me worn out. I just want another drink.” 

Frank’s arms swung akimbo while his pelvis gyrated violently and eyebrows also pranced quickly up and down, as if those motions might convince her to join the fray of other people in relative expressions of excitement. He waggled a finger enticingly toward where she stood on the sideline listless and brooding. 

Sherrell couldn’t help chuckling at Frank’s dorky invitation. He could’ve asked someone else to come with him who, most likely, would be a much funner companion. This was one night in the earth’s last full rotation of the sun that allows complete abandon of all seriousness. Life provided her enough seriousness in that time frame. 

“Oh, shiiiiit, girl! That’s my jam!” Frank bellowed when REM’s “End of the World As We Know It” blasted through the speakers. His body went into a wild spin, head whirling on the axis of his neck, arms now floated askew.

Sherrell recognized those old chords and Michael Stipe’s voice from the past, what seemed like a lifetime ago, when she had far fewer serious concerns than now. The portent of those lyrics mirrored the past period of existence, a stage now — thank God — behind her.

Her shoulders collapsed in capitulation, and her feet moved forward, seemingly of their own volition. “Screw it! Let’s go, Frank. I wanna dance!” 

→→→→→ Here’s to a better 2019! ÷←←←←←

Day 1 photo courtesy of Matt Preston via Flickr through Creative Commons license

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A Mother’s Guilt

Kindergarten

Peer pressure could dictate what happened within those classroom walls every day, what she couldn’t see and dare not imagine. She feared what happened in those hallways, in the locker room.

Secure entrances obscured what potential danger threatened to hurt the child she sent on a yellow bus every morning, away from her loving care and protection. He might get in trouble, get suspended, but nothing weighed heavier than the everyday threat of lockdown, sending  kids scrambling to hide if one of them sought revenge on another.

Who would stop them from inside?

 

100 Word Challenge – writing prompt: trouble

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Restitution

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Leaves had yet to turn when the deer blind went up long before rifle season. Preparing kept him from dwelling on grief.

Mother’s passing months prior stayed his mind only on loss. “Concentrate on good times,” people advised. They said, “She’s in a better place.” All that tripe made not a damn bit of difference.

Hunting provided the only mental respite. Readying his stand, cleaning his rifle, and sighting in the scope all saved him from himself. Redirected with thought of the kill.

Looking skyward, he mumbled, “Figure it’s one fer one, Lord. You take one, and I take one, too.”

 

100 Word Challenge – save

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr

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Hanging Way Over

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Those bloodshot eyes hinted at what short-term memory couldn’t recapture. The puffy reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror confirmed it must have been one hell of a time. She opened the door and rattled around with shaking hands in search of a fast-acting pain reliever. Maybe a razor to shave the fur off her tongue. Elves must have knitted a tiny sweater and placed it there for warmth during her spinning slumber.

A glass bottle fell to the porcelain sink and shattered, startling her. This hammering headache was bound to linger longer than the temporary fun from the night before.

 

100 Word Challenge:  Fun

Photo:  Image Catalog via Flickr

 

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The Day’s Catch

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His concentration went all to hell when that first lightning bolt flashed toward the horizon. It’s hard to pay attention to anything else when your butt is floating atop a plastic boat at risk of the next spark actually hitting the water beneath you. Finding a place to go ashore immediately became Tommy’s priority.

Warnings from his mother to watch for pop-up storms didn’t keep him from going out that morning. She didn’t want her son fishing alone in the first place.

Mom had cautioned, “There’s no fooling around with bad weather. Nature always wins. I’ve told you what happened to us on a float trip when I was young.” Using metal canoes meant a friend got hurt when lightning struck the surface somewhere upriver. They made it home feeling plenty scared but lucky.

With gear quickly stored, Tommy paddled for safety. Strong wind spiked waves that rocked the small kayak as rain began to fall, but heightened senses seemed to aid his rowing speed regardless. He thought, “Who woulda guessed these sticks could make me move this fast?” Boulders along the lake’s bank made for a formidable landing spot, though.

Both fast-moving dark clouds and Mom’s harping on bad stuff clouded the kid’s judgement when alighting shore. His inexpensive little boat found the sharpest rock possible, which shoved a hole in its flimsy hull. “Noooo,” Tommy hollered on impact. He had stood up at just that same moment and toppled forward to sprawl his thin limbs across the jagged shoreline.

Regardless of the pain, the boy’s first thought was, “Oh, man. I’m going to be in so much trouble!” He lay there on the rocks hurting but only dreading how he’d have to tell his mother about the damaged kayak.

Radiant beams shown into his eyes and broke that distraction at the abrupt arrival of a car on a berm adjacent the strand. He wiped rain from his face and blinked into the headlights’ glare. Relief washed over him to see his mother alight from the Honda and start toward him. She yelled, “Tommy, I’m so glad to see you’re off the water!”

“Me, too, Mom,” he mumbled. “Me, too.”

Two Word Tuesday writing prompt – radiant

 

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No Place Like Home

“We should get there by nightfall, Shelbina,” the woman told her sleeping daughter, the susurrus of the road having lulled a sense of calm. She always used the little one’s full name, unlike her father. He refused to recognize the namesake, yet another way to maintain his control, so everyone else knew her as Shelly..

Shelbina was the tiny place where her mother grew up. That town and the girl represented everything the woman truly loved, which only fueled her husband’s resentment. But his predictable delivery room absence left her a chance signing of the birth certificate without him. Someone wise might have warned that lack of parental participation as a foreshadowing.

She glanced over her shoulder at the girl’s limp form slumped in the backseat, eyes fluttering in a disturbed REM cycle. A big row earlier in the evening must have played part in such fitful slumber.

The woman reckoned all that nonsense had to come to a head before she finally split up their family. A glimpse in the rear-view mirror as she returned her gaze to the road convinced her that fateful decision was the right one. Proof in fresh bruising around her left eye.

Just lightly fingering the puffiness brought a sudden flinch. That kind of pain proved she’d done the right thing to hit him over the head with the floor lamp and gain enough escape time to get to the car. Even if her brother ended up beating the man half to death in retaliation when he saw her face later.

It was only a matter of time before her husband’s anger turned to Shelbina instead of herself. “He ain’t never gonna touch you, honey. Not if I can help it,” she whispered, not wanting to wake the girl. Maybe saying the words out loud would mean she could believe she’d actually left him.

Shelbina’s untidy hair glistened in the golden hour glow of gathering dusk. The closer they got to the western horizon, the closer they were to home. “Just a little while longer now,” the woman said softly. “We’re almost to Shelbina.”

 

Two Word Tuesday prompt – adumbrate and/or foreshadow

http://ourwriteside.com/28742-2/

video: Samantha Fish – “Go Home” via Local 909 in Studio

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Not a creature was stirring

Prison Bars

Something collided with the cell bars above him and reverberated against the crown of his head. Paulie scurried away from the sound and covered his now aching skull with crossed arms to protect it from further damage.

“Get your lazy ass on your feet if you want anything to eat,” the blurry man in uniform yelled at him. “There’s a cup of coffee and oatmeal there by the door.” The baton that rang out the metal tune on his head moments ago pointed in the opposite direction. “Serve yourself. This ain’t the Holiday Inn.”

Waking up on a cold slab that hung from a concrete wall at Jefferson County jail was a helluva way to spend Christmas morning. The bed felt as flat against his back as the empty wallet in his pocket. Paulie knew good and well his kids were at home expecting to open presents Santa Claus hadn’t brought from the North Pole this year. The coward in him was glad to not witness their disappointment.

Growing up, Paulie’s family ofttimes had its own lean years. His mom would find a way, some kind of hustle, to get his sisters and him a little something. Even if she had to stoop to making them all angels on some charity’s tree. The siblings enjoyed plenty of welfare dinners none the wiser.

Paulie would not only perpetuate the stereotype this year but do it one better. No money for gifts should’ve meant no cash for drinks, but he spent what he had regardless. All the bender did was land him an overnight stay in lockup. Not the best place to be when he should have been putting out cookies and milk for the fat man and carrots for some flying reindeer.

The tree he’d chopped down after dark at the nature preserve would still be there when he got out three days later, dried out and bound to start a house fire. A single strand of tinsel hung listless from a parched branch, and the ornaments still remained, but the sparse presents were all gone. Along with his kids and wife. She must’ve taken them to her mother’s before Paulie got released. He figured as much would happen.

He opened the otherwise empty refrigerator and retrieved a beer before collapsing into the threadbare recliner. No cheerful carols rung out or kids’ laughter greeted him. Paulie reached over and plugged the cord for the Christmas tree lights into the outlet anyway.

*Our Write Side writing prompt – ofttimes

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Taking In the Scenery

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That gray day obscured visibility and led to Mrs. Tolson’s accident but also reflected the farmer’s mood upon learning his heifer broke through the fence. The cow in the road caused a wreck that risked everything Mose Riley worked many hard years to earn. A legal battle still simmered over who held the liability for fault.

Mose swung a hammer to drive in the next nail for fence repair and caught a sidelong glimpse at crows that pecked debris left on the pavement. The specks of brain matter and intestine scattered across the blacktop reminded him of the mess he had ahead of him in court. “Damn that Clara,” he murmured to himself. “Why did she choose that stretch of wood to topple? A hundred yards down the row and she’d have just gone over into the neighbor’s field. Damn her all to hell.”

Mrs. Tolson’s lawyer later criticized the farmer’s negligence in not seeing a hole during the prior feeding time when he’d last checked his cattle. “Had the defendant repaired the perimeter fence, my client would never have met the fatal end to her Sunday evening drive,” the attorney contended.

Mose cursed the insurance adjuster who warned him to not say a defensive word about it. “Let’s not rile them. Keep the damages to a minimum,” the man cautioned.

Farming had always been a financial risk, but Riley lamented seeing all that money metaphorically splayed in a ditch beside the road. The carcass rested in a mangled mass just across the pavement since the Sheriff refused to let him take the cow away to slaughter. It needed to stay there as evidence until their fatality investigation concluded.

“Not only will my rates go up, but I gotta see Clara laying there and not even be able to turn her into burger. Lost her as a producer AND steaks, too,” he thought. One broken brown leg twisted around behind her haunch in a supremely painful-looking position. All the cow’s inner fluids had leaked through the boundaries of her body, and an incredible stench emitted from her bloated form. No future calves from Clara, and not even a rib-eye for dinner.

Spitting a long sluice of tobacco in the direction of the remains, Mose decided to leave the calculation of lost money to another day. “Dammit if she don’t stink, too,” he swore aloud. “I just wish she’d have landed on the insurance man instead of Mrs. Tolson.” Maybe the coyotes would scavenge enough in the night to take care of that stench.

Riley looked away and went back to his mending. “This blasted fence won’t fix itself neither,” he mumbled and gave the post a swift kick.

*Our Write Side prompt – supremely or very

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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 dreads they might. 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 black 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 while searching a few days after the funeral.

Norman had been headed back to town, set out for home from a bar he frequented out on the highway. His friends said with the twilight at that time of day he 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 there 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 handles torn from 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 still been there. He just didn’t have the time to make as big an impression as the man who killed him. Only his teachers and their neighbors knew Brian, but his brother wanted everyone else to remember him, 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 disagree. 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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