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Hindsight

Pabst

Somebody warned me to watch out for that guy. Said he was no good, had done some time before. Another girl who went to high school with Trevor said she heard he got off from those charges, but neither one told what he supposedly did in the first place. His smile made me want to believe it was nothing.

He looked like a decent enough guy, kinda cute in a baggy sweater and clean blue jeans with no holes. Almost looked sorta preppy for a burner kind of dude. That short, spiky blonde hair with sleepy blue eyes that peered up from the pool table really got me. Looks can be deceiving, though.

“That one’s starin’ at you, girl.” My friend brought it to my attention. I set my mug down on the bar top and glanced to where she threw her head to point.

The group shooting pool shoulda been a warning in itself. None of them had a job and probably had to scrape together the dollar it cost to play their game. His partner might have even just got out of jail himself.

After we talked awhile, he asked if I wanted to take a little ride. I don’t know why I went out there. Shoulda known better. Maybe it was simple boredom.

“You and your friends oughta watch out who you talk to at that place,” he warned as we pulled out of the parking lot. The shiny white teeth that showed when he grinned surprised the hell outta me considering the string of chew he spit out the window.

“Like you?” I asked. Shrugging his shoulders, he tried to wink at me but just looked goofy instead of cute. He turned his attention to the steering wheel and swerved back into the right lane. Maybe we both had more to drink than I realized.

He said, “So, Candy, what’s a pretty little thing like you doin’ at a dive like The Bottoms Up bar?”

“It’s Brandy,” I corrected him. That was the second time he got my name wrong after I’d already told him once inside and again when we walked to his truck.

“Yeah, right. Like brandy the drink, not Candy the … cane. You know, at Christmastime.” He laughed a little and scrunched his face up weird, maybe trying to be sexy but failing miserably. I just nodded and watched the headlights stake out the route in front of us.

We passed the east side city limits sign en route to his little country house. A turn onto gravel and then several lefts and rights followed before we finally arrived. I didn’t remember having been that far out in the boonies before.

I looked around at the skyline when we parked in the driveway, trying to get a sense of the direction back to town and hoping not to need to know. A rickety step gave under our weight as we stepped up onto the porch, and the screen door creaked so loud I thought it might fall off the top hinge as he opened it.

“It ain’t much, but it’s mine,” Trevor said. He crossed the threshold into a dimly lit living room with dirty hardwood floors. “Make yourself at home.”

He got me a PBR and about drank his own in one swallow after we sat down on a sagging couch. The tweed fabric scratched the back of my legs as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders to pull me toward him. I noticed lines of chewing tobacco between the straight, white teeth of the mouth moving forward to engulf my own. After a long, saliva-filled kiss that I hoped was clear instead of Copenhagen brown, he got up and half-stumbled backward toward a hallway.

“Gotta take a piss,” he said. “Be right back.” He tried the pathetic wink again. I hate when people do that. Reminds me of Uncle Thurman who wore plaid pants and sold used cars at a lot over in Summitville when I was a kid.

Considering my bad choices that evening, I figured lots worse could happen besides a slobber-crusted kiss. After a swallow of beer to wash away tobacco taste lingering in my mouth, I opened the door as carefully as possible to not give myself away as I slipped into the darkness. Damp grass soaked my Keds when I sprinted across the yard and onto the lane. A half moon overhead spilled just enough light to show me the way.

I heard that door creak open and Travis holler behind me, “Hey, Candy! Where’d ya go?” Not daring to look back, I trudged on down the road with gravel crunching under my wet shoes.

Cutting across farmers’ fields to shortcut meant risking an electric fence in the pitch-black path or meeting a guard dog along the way, so I resigned myself to the road. I’d get back to town eventually if I just followed the telephone lines. It would just take a long damn time.

Hoping I was far enough away to not be heard, I mumbled, “How the hell do I get myself into this stuff? I need to find some other shit to do.”

If I didn’t laugh, I woulda cried. Maybe I’d get home by the time the sun came up.

***

Two Word Tuesday prompt at Our Write Side – boredom

Image: Brian Wilkins via Flickr

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Life Primer

butt

“It’s too early for this shit.” Smoke trailed from his flared nostrils as Wayne tightened his grip on the steering wheel until veins protruded from the knuckles of his work-weary fingers. He’d taken time off from the tire shop to give Brandy a ride to her doctor’s appointment that morning. She threatened to tell her father about their mistake if he didn’t take her, whether he liked it or not.

They drove south on Highway 65 in Wayne’s primered Camaro with bondo-patched rust spots, its original paint color a mystery. The exhaust system’s howl  echoed down the highway and bellowed as much noise pollution as black fumes that streamed from its oxidized tailpipe. He flicked a spent cigarette out the window with bravado, red sparks spiking off the pavement as the butt narrowly missed a BMW’s hood in the adjacent lane.

Brandy folded her knees in front of her in the passenger seat, her dirty hair pulled up into a ponytail with red curls escaping its bonds to protrude out one side. She pushed the loose strands behind her ear and rubbed her jaw. That bad tooth hurt so much she didn’t know which was more important – a pregnancy test or going on to the college clinic where the students worked on your mouth for free.

Neither one of the pair had much sleep after partying the night before. They’d been up half the night, and Wayne’s temperament showed it.

Their clandestine meet-ups usually took place off the beaten path in the dark — either out in a fallow field out in the boonies with no livestock to upset or even further out on a little-used dirt road in the middle of nowhere, the “boontoolies.”

Hiding in a copse of trees the night before helped their group feel safe out of sight. The likelihood of a county mounty patrolling was slim to none.

They built a quickly extinguishable campfire for enough illumination to light up, get high, and then get gone as soon as possible. Such a short party served its purpose to self-medicate. No socialization necessary for that purpose. That sort of thing could stymie a buzz superfast.

In the car, Wayne rubbed a bloodshot eye with the back of one hand, and she noticed the chewed down stubs of his nails framed by yellowed fingertips. His thumb was wrapped in soiled tape that hadn’t been changed since bloodying it with a lug wrench the week before.

“Why did that asshole, Stevie, show up out there? Listening to his mouth run is even worse than yours.” From the look on her boyfriend’s face, Brandy sensed it best not to say anything else and piss him off more. He shook his head violently to wake himself up, jerking the wheel in the process, and Brandy grabbed the door handle to steady herself.

“If that wasn’t bad enough, now I’m up at the ass crack of dawn taking you somewhere. I’d think you could get your old man to fix your car so you can drive yourself.”

“I thought you might want to find out the results with me,” she said softly. She read his opposing feelings on the matter from a sideways glance.

He sniffed. “Huh. You must think we’re playing house or somethin.’” The tip of his right ear was turning that crimson tinge it always did when Wayne got mad. “I don’t care what your daddy says, this ain’t happenin.’”

She flinched at the timbre of his voice. It sounded just like her father’s before he reached out to slap her. “Why don’t you just shut up the rest of the way? I can’t deal with this so early in the damn morning.” He looked down at the blue Bic while he lit another smoke, and the car inched toward the median. The car nearly crossed the highway dividing line.

He took the first drag off his cigarette and blew a long plume out one side of his mouth while talking out of the other. “You’re sadly mistaken if you think I’m havin’ any part of this business. If it’s positive we’re headed right to that place on 47th Street and bustin’ through that string of people with the protest signs. They can yell at us all they want, but you’re gettin’ rid of it.”

Brandy put her flip-flopped feet back on the floorboard and stared at the tiny bump in her middle. At such an early stage, it barely pushed out the waistband of her cotton shorts. She closed her eyes to shut out his words and rubbed her swollen jaw to concentrate on the toothache instead of the pain in her chest. Even though the reality of what Wayne and her dad would expect weighed on her, she knew better than to let her dad find out their predicament.

Wayne’s rant continued, “It’s none of their damn business anyways. Those ol’ bitches at that clinic can kiss my ass. I don’t care what’s in their damn Bible. You’re going in there if I have to drag you. That’s what’s next, girl.”

She rolled the window down a little in hopes the wind might carry her just a whiff of woodsmoke from the embers of a fire somewhere. They had fun at that field party, or at least it seemed like it. Brandy wished she could go back there and get high again.

Image: Jessica Lucia via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – copse s30p

 

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New Old Friends

Part three of Reunion series: previous installment – Dying Embers

pink drink

Almost everyone was dressed to the nines, most likely to try and impress each other. A high school class reunion is the opportune time to pretend to be someone a person is not. Matt had no pretense, though. The ragged jeans and faded polo shirt he wore made him resemble a ragamuffin, and he probably felt overdressed. Jennifer wondered if he owned any other clothing than a blue work shirt with his name stitched on the pocket.

She tried to make her mouth move as she stared at him, willed herself to come up with a snappy come-back to his rudeness, to say anything. Instead, she stood there slack-jawed and stammering while he looked at her expectantly. His bimbo wife joined him, having followed him across the ballroom like a lost puppy. Or just a jealous young wife. Jennifer looked beyond Matt’s shoulder at the woman clicking awkwardly on stilettos, which was easier than looking Matt in the eye.

Her old love was right there in front of her, and he waited for some type of response. He asked, “Are you already drunk? I’d say it’s pretty early in the night for that.”

Jennifer was stunned into silence, but the classmate friend whose name she couldn’t remember spoke for her. The woman was so tall she towered over Matt’s head. Unfortunately, her embroidered attire was almost as atrocious as Matt’s. Sweater Vest asked him, “What kind of hello is that, Matt? Pretty judgey coming from you. I remember you being quite the drinker back in the day.”

“Not any more. I’ve been in recovery for six months now, in fact,” he paused, staring at the woman. He moved the pair of sunglasses that rested on his balding head to a front shirt pocket. It had been dark outside for a few hours, so maybe he left them there instead of getting a hair transplant. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t talking to you,” he went on. “Jennifer …”

Standing next to Matt, his petite wife’s eyes flashed between him and Jennifer as if they volleyed a tennis ball back and forth. Hands on her hips in indignation, she clearly didn’t like being ignored by them.

“Oh, forgive me. I’m Gwen Collins,” Sweater Vest told Matt. “Of course, you wouldn’t remember me. You never spoke to me in school, but I’m a friend of Jen’s.” Gwen gripped Jennifer’s shoulder with a protective arm. She suddenly liked having the long limb around her in solidarity.

Gwen continued, “Congratulations on your new sobriety, but you don’t have to act so superior. We all remember how you used to act when drunk. Don’t be such a downer. This is a party.”

Jennifer finally found her voice. “It’s good to see you, Matt. And your wife.” She tossed her head in the wife’s direction, and the woman smiled at finally being acknowledged. “I was just reminiscing with Gwen, so please excuse us.” She got a tiny rush turning her back on Matt. Damn, she thought, is that all I could come up with? 

She waited a moment until the couple retreated across the dance floor and then told Gwen, “Thank you so much for that.” Jennifer felt a twinge of guilt at initially not remembering the big woman.

“Don’t mention it,” Gwen said. “Now, let’s go get a drink.” She grabbed Jennifer’s hand, grinned widely, and pulled her toward the table where her husband sat waiting. He lifted a glass as if to toast the women’s approach.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – ragamuffin  s30p

photo: Sheri Wetherell (Flickr Creative Commons)

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Dying Embers

Part two of Reunion series: continued from previous post – The Past Catches Up

punch

The doors opened onto a festive ballroom full of balloons, streamers, and white strings of light that ensconced friends from what seemed like a previous lifetime. A large paper banner reading, “Welcome Class of 1996” spanned the stage above a rock-n-roll cover band. Classmates gathered in small clusters, much like cliques in a long-ago lunchroom.

Listeners nodded at talking heads across from them, plastic smiles plastered on faces pretending to be happier and more successful than their lives actually made them. Spouses stood slumped-shouldered at being forced to attend a party among strangers and people they may not otherwise associate with in public. Some looked up every few minutes to affect interest.

She ripped an adhesive name badge from its paper backing and moved into the space with the purpose of mingling. It’s not like the old days when I had to find my pack. I can talk to anyone I want here, she told herself. Spanning the room, she questioned herself, But who would that be? A few familiar faces made eye contact and grinned subtle acknowledgement, yet she wanted to get a lay of the land before approaching anyone in particular.

An exceptionally tall woman wearing an embroidered sweater vest approached to ask, “Jennifer, Jennifer Stockton? Is that you?” She searched her memory to decipher who the seemingly ancient woman could possibly be but found no answer lurking in her grey matter. How could I possibly have graduated with someone so old? Jennifer pondered.

“Hi,” she began and offered a hand to greet the woman but lost both arms to her bear-hug grip instead. “What’s with this shaking business? Come here, you!” she giggled, explosively invading her personal space with gangly limbs encircling her body. Her height towered above Jennifer so that her face smashed into one of the rose appliques on the pilled cotton sweater.

“Come on over and meet my husband,” the lady urged. “He’s over here eating, of course, just like always.” For the life of her, Jennifer couldn’t place her new-old friend’s name but followed obediently to the food table. An incessant monologue ensued, complete with career explanations and offspring descriptions. Jennifer thought the woman would prattle on forever, but she heard none of it.

Instead, her eyes locked on him from across the buffet. His visage was unmistakable regardless of the balding pate and sallow complexion. How could a person so previously handsome become so pasty? Maybe it was years of heavy drinking.

Matt looked bored. He stared into the pink concoction in his clear plastic punch cup, and a woman next to him yammered on at the couple standing next to them. Matt scanned the room until his gaze caught her own, but his dour countenance indicated no hint of recognition. Jennifer thought, How can he not know who I am?

The guy was and always would be a wannabe. He pretended to be important, almost an attempt to make others think he was as special as he found himself to be. He was unique alright … just like everyone else. Matt was a fraud and she knew it. He knew she knew it, although he tried to pretend he didn’t. Even back in school.

Yet her fondness for him stayed with her over the years regardless of it not being reciprocated. She felt an aching in the space behind her heart, that orange glowing space that so wanted to be filled.

Their eyes remained locked until his expression turned to one of surprised recognition.

Jennifer’s brow furrowed in disappointment at the delayed reaction. Why wouldn’t he remember me? She tried to concentrate on what Sweater Vest was saying, but she struggled to feign interest. Catching Matt’s approach out of the corner of her eye flustered her even more. She stared at Sweater Vest, nodding, faking a laugh. Anything to make Matt know he didn’t deserve her attention.

She felt a hand on her shoulder. Matt beckoned, “Jennifer, is that you?” Turning to face him, she acted shocked to see him. “Hello there, Matt,” she crooned and plastered a toothy grin across her face.

Jerking his head backward, he wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Oh, my God. Are you drunk? You smell like booze.” Jennifer felt mortified.

Studio30

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – prattle

(photo: the drink nation)

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The Past Catches Up

Dodgeball_Throw

She hated it when P.E. class became co-ed in their freshman year, even if they just played dodgeball. The guys always waited until the teacher wasn’t looking to throw the dimpled red ball as hard as possible to hit the girls. They aimed at either the bum or the boobs. Every time.

Mr. Ray Monroe once told her, “Pay no mind to them boys. If they pick on ya, that means they like ya.” She could never fathom how abuse equaled fondness. Mr. Monroe turned his head from that business. He probably threw things at girls when he was young, too.

The thought of their high school reunion being just a week away put her in a funk. Why put herself through such misery to see those same guys again? The people she wanted to stay in touch with were still her friends, and the others didn’t matter.

Her hometown hadn’t changed at all, and she doubted the people had either. Many stayed there after graduation, working mundane jobs to pay the bills. Survival would be difficult without an elixir to pass time, so the tavern earned a lot of that take-home pay. That’s how she imagined Matt’s life of subsistence to be unless things had drastically changed for him.

He’d be at the reunion. No way to avoid seeing him. His wavy red hair and deep, hearty laugh haunted her dreams. That wry smile. A repetitive invitation to reunite. Awakening brought back reality.

Unsure how to react at seeing him live instead of through a subconscious illusion in her sleep, she resigned herself to go anyway. Not going would otherwise feel like defeat. She took time off work to go.

She’d have to speak to him but wasn’t looking forward to it. He cared not one whit for how she felt, then or now, and his apathy left her heartbroken and despondent.

Three days passed with no sunshine, and she hated to wake in the morning to yet another rainfall battering the window. It took every ounce of mental energy to rise from bed and face the day. Want of coffee can convince anyone to at least venture from the solace of the bedroom to the kitchen for a cup. An extra-strong espresso started the morning of the reunion, and caffeine jitters got her through the day.

She put the gearshift in park upon arriving at the venue. Semi-familiar faces greeted each other with smiles at the entrance, and everyone shook hands while adhering adhesive name tags to save each other from awkward re-introductions.

“It’s time to get over this bullshit and face him. I’m not that intimidated girl in gym class any longer,” she thought and steadied her nerves. Reaching under the seat to grab the bottle and take a last long drink helped a little, too. “Here goes nothing,” she told herself and opened the car door to go inside.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – mundane

image: commons.wikimedia.orgs30p

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Loyalty

4147993730_d8e29e98ae_o.jpgTheo Hammons sat on the idea for near three weeks before he finally settled on asking his grandson his opinion on the matter. He stood on the rickety porch waiting for the young man’s arrival to get his take. Worn boards moaned pitifully at his weight shift, regardless of the man’s slight frame, their age and strength waning even more than his own.

The widower exclaimed, “Damn it!” as he lost his grip on the railing, paint flakes flying when his hand raked across it. “Get away from me, ya good for nothin,’” he spat at a scraggly calico cat trying to rub against his dirty blue jeans as it circled his legs. Kicking at the feline altered his balance more than the animal’s resolve.

His t-shirt, once white and now an ill-tempered yellowed with sweat stains and filth, caught a drip of chewing tobacco flung from the gaping maw of his mouth. He blamed the cat as his latest annoyance, cursed at it some more, and flung a Pabst Blue Ribbon can at it after he took the last swallow. The discarded aluminum landed near a similar pile of empties lining the opposite railing.

Working all those years at Peckinpaw Farms certainly wore him down and damaged his ego. He surprised even himself with the prospect of asking the new foreman for his job back. He’d once been in charge, after all. He ran the operation until his bones couldn’t take it any more and his self-medication through alcohol no longer soothed the aches and pains of his body and soul. Especially after his wife passed.

Otherwise, Theo simply existed. Many of his friends had either died, moved in with their children to be cared for, or stared at the green institutional walls of the State Veterans’ Home. Since failing the vision test and losing his driver’s license, he hadn’t been to visit any of them. Days spent watching the RFD network or the weather channel, listening to Hank Williams on the radio, and waiting interminably for grandkids to visit worked his nerves. Watching, listening, waiting.

Returning to work might give him reason to live again. “I’m ready to run that tractor, by God,” he’d tell Peckinpaw Jr., who’d taken over. “Maybe I can supervise the field work from the cab of that new John Deere.” He planned to assert, “Those young ‘uns could learn from my experience. Surely that still means somethin’ today.” Swallowing his pride to ask for his job would go down about as well as a dirt clod from a wind row in one of those fields.

When Jason arrived later that evening, he found Theo collapsed in a heap among his cast-off beer cans in front of the porch swing. “Grandpa,” he asked shaking the man’s shoulder, “what in the world are you doing out here?” He struggled to lift his dead weight, as slight as it was, and half-dragged his grandfather inside through a sagging screen door that groaned louder than Theo did and nearly fell off its twisted hinges at being opened.

The old orange, brown and white cat’s eyes looked almost as rheumy as its owner’s. The feline snuck quickly behind Jason and inside the house before the ragged door smacked closed behind them. “Damned, cat,” Theo muttered. “Made me fall down. Git outta here, git!” He swung a weak arm at the animal, attempting to erase it from existence, as if doing so would help relieve his misery.

“That silly cat may be one of the few beings left on this earth that cares about you,” his grandson warned him. Theo passed out again, and his balding head slumped forward. He lay still on the threadbare couch, much like the stack of crushed PBR empties beside it on the floor. The raggedy cat walked in a circle atop his body before settling down to sleep on Theo’s bony hip.

Jason crossed back across the threshold to leave and eased the door closed behind him so as to not wake Theo. He left him there to sleep off his sorrow until the morning.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – erase s30p

photo: Geoffrey Galloway via Flickr

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The Birds & the Bees on TV

16 - 1

The clunking sound of pans and plates being rocked by the spray of water in the dishwasher covered an annoying chatter of television sports announcers emitting from the adjoining room. Fortunately, the rotating whoosh sound fairly drowned out the strange mentions of “dog legs” on golf courses and commentators’ snappy banter about ball scores and one another’s tie on the cast that day. Her son’s attraction to such boring fare was beyond her understanding.

She asked him, “Why don’t you go outside and play, honey?” Apparently the boy was in rapture of the reporting and didn’t answer. She raised her voice to get his attention. “Hey, there! It’s a beautiful day outside. You ought to go ride your bicycle,” the woman suggested. Imagining the silence in the house, she relished the idea of sitting at the kitchen table with the enormous cat dozing in her lap at the chance of reading the final pages of her book.

“Oh, come on, Mom. I’m watching ESPN,” he told her. Personally, she’d rather listen to the sound of jackhammers outside the door than the squeak of athletic shoes on a basketball court or another jaunty jingle in a beer commercial. The same stereotypical advertisements filled the network’s breaks between segments. Maybe programmers knew their market, but her boy didn’t need to choose shaver brands quite yet.

“I just can’t fathom what you get out of watching that stuff,” she said. “Can you explain it to me?” No reply came. He was lost to the eagle putt again.

Back in her childhood, she loved roaming the neighborhood. All the other kids played in their yards and waved at her walking their dog around the block. Sometimes they’d join her to place pennies on the railroad tracks, which they’d flock to retrieve later in hopes a train had smashed the coins flat. She stayed aloft and out of her parents’ sight in the tallest oak tree if sought for causing trouble.

Remembering those shenanigans made her smile. Being outdoors had been her absolute favorite pastime. Why didn’t kids feel the same way nowadays?

Barely within her realm of acknowledgement, she heard an ad announcer say, “A healthy erection will not last more than four hours.” “Great,” she thought, “here we go.”

Her son called, “Mom?” She closed her paperback and froze in fear of the next question. Being out of his line of sight, maybe he’d think she left the room.

“Mo-om,” he persisted. “What’s an erection?” She remained silent. She’d dreaded this day coming. He was too young to know about these things yet. “Damn, you Golf Channel marketing department,” she pondered. “Why did you make this conversation necessary so soon?”

She remained perfectly still. Maybe she didn’t have to respond. Looking out the window, she wished she could climb the nearest tree and hide.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – shenanigans s30p

Image: Katy B.

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A Representative Fissure

2253163393_b73f8c5457_o.jpgIt can take a lifetime to figure out what makes another person tick. Even someone you’ve known a since childhood. Despite the quirky persona, in spite of the long relationship, even though you’ve always felt a fondness for him. You never expected such from a friend. Especially not a person from your same parish, who grew up on the same block.

We all know the dude, the one whose consternation makes him stick out like a semi-conspicuous sore, if not arthritic, thumb. He’s camouflaged under an image, but getting to know him better sometimes shows the inner workings of his mind and an inconsistent attitude about humanity. He’s the guy from Sunday school class, the one who still goes to Bible study, the good ol’ guy. But he can still surprise me.

We take a road trip now and then. Once he offered, “You know I’m glad this term is finally almost over. It’s about time to ‘Make America Great Again.’ You know, like they say.”

“Who’s they?” I ask him, shaking my head in dismay.

“Oh, you know what I mean. New blood. Somebody in office more like you and me, brother,” he replies.

The furrow of my brow and head waggling back and forth surely affirms my disagreement. Just in case he doesn’t get it, I tell him, “Not me. I like the guy there just fine. Personally, I think this country is already great.”

Our paths went in different directions in adulthood, but he’s not a complete rube. We’ve known each other forever and agree on some matters but other times not so much. My friend must think I concur on the subject. He says, “We need a good, God-fearing man in there, I tell ya. You get me, right?”

I guffaw. “We’re going to have to agree to disagree on that one, buddy.” The interior of the car becomes awkwardly silent at that point.

Gallivanting down the Interstate, I turn away from the conversation at that particularly cringe-worthy moment and take in the leafless branches of spindly trees along the road. They reach up to pull the milky sun out from behind blurry clouds in what Johnny Cash must’ve surely meant by an “atomic sky.” My thoughts get mixed there among the haze, my mind grasping to forget the bromide from the passenger seat.

The granular landscape doesn’t save my senses from the rant’s residue.

I don’t want to be all judgy and pigeon hole my old friend as a total mossback. It’s hard not to when times like this reveal exactly how far apart our worldviews are, how fundamentally different we’ve become. I’m sure he senses the divide between us widening as much as I do.

As we reach our final destination the air between us yet hangs ominously heavy and still. He asks, “We on for dinner after church on Sunday?” I shrug. “Sure, man. See you then.”

s30p

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quirky

Image: Natalie via Flickr

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Losing Control

pill bottle.jpg

Pamela’s sister yelled from behind the window, “What in the world were you thinking?” The woman didn’t know how she always seemed to get herself into such predicaments. With her car in the shrubbery, its bumper dented and headlight smashed, she had yet to suss the situation, much less defend or refute any accusations from an angry sibling.

“What was I thinking … I don’t even know where I am,” Pamela mumbled. Her head ached and a thin trickle of blood leaked down her forehead as she lifted it from the top arc of the steering wheel. Confused, she asked herself, “Where the hell am I?” She looked past the dashboard to where her sister stood at the plate-glass window in shocked surprise with her arms spread wide to hold open the living room curtains. A plume of steam rose into the air above the Accord’s crunched hood.

She gritted her teeth and beat a fist on the wheel. “It’s that goddamn Ambien! I should’ve known not to take that last night when I got home from the bar.” Now, facing her sibling, she was at a loss to explain her actions. As if losing her job wasn’t enough, begging forgiveness for ruining such carefully-sculpted greenery would be her next humiliation.

She didn’t have to open the driver’s door to feel how her sister would assail her with accusations. Such a one-sided conversation happened before. “What it is now, Pamela? When are you going to get your shit together?” Their mother’s expression on her sister Margaret’s face bore down on her. No disapproving words were unnecessary.

That glare made Pamela feel lower than she already felt about herself, if possible. Margaret’s judgment filled in for their mother’s absence, and her punishing opinion only added to Pamela’s miserable self-concept. Mother’s disdain was palpable all the way from her vault at Peaceful Acres on Parkridge Drive.

Pamela’s stomach turned at seeing the crumpled front bumper. No way could she afford the insurance deductible this time. She’d just have to drive it as-is. “I don’t remember starting the car, much less driving … or ending up here,” she explained in a futile attempt to quell Margaret’s anger.

Had the Honda veered into a guardrail on the freeway, her suffering may’ve finally ended. Instead, the landscaping of the house where desperate circumstances left her to live off a family member had cushioned her sleep-aid-fueled escapade.

Margaret stood, her arms crossed in front of her, stabbing Pamela with an all too familiar steely glare. Although Pamela loved her sister and was grateful for the hospitality of a place to stay after losing her apartment, the woman’s condescending attitude grew to an intolerable level.

“I’m so sick of this shit,” she spat, got back in the car, and slammed the door. The tires dug ruts in the formerly-pristine sod when she threw the gear shift into reverse, spun out onto the pavement, and sped down the street. Radiator be damned.

“Hmmm,” Margaret pondered, giving a slight shrug. “Guess I get to watch the new X-Files by myself tonight. Good.” She went back inside and closed the curtains.

(photo – joshboyd studios via Flickr)

Studio 30+ writing prompt – vault s30p

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Keeping Watch

copper fittings

He squinted his eyes to get a better look at the blue metal building from a safe distance. All he could see was a rusted scoop tractor parked by the door but nobody milling about the structure. “Where do you think he keeps that ol’ shit-eating dog?” he asked his partner in crime, as they hid within a copse of trees just off the property. They preferred their presence go unnoticed there, as the duo planned to break into the place.

“Don’t worry about that mongrel. It don’t have enough teeth to nip either one of us, much less land a bite that’d do any damage,” Cyrill tried to convince him.

They sat still and didn’t say another word to each other for several minutes, anticipating a visitor to the building or the owner himself. The pair hoped no one would arrive. Staking out the place proved to be a much more tedious task than originally thought.

“You know, this might not be such a good idea,” Tony offered. “Maybe we oughta just call it a day.” He nudged Cyrill in the back with one shaky hand from behind and dug in his front pocket for a cigarette with the other hand while glancing down at his wavering knuckles. Taking a last drink about 5:30 that morning, before daylight peered over the horizon, meant Tony’s body either wanted another one or desperately needed some sleep. They’d sat hidden in the overhanging branches for about three hours, and his ass felt frozen to the ground below it.

Cyrill turned to glare back at him and crossed a fat, tobacco-stained finger across his lips to shush him. “Shut the hell up, why don’t ya? If anybody’s in there, they’re gonna hear ya.” He’d have never told Tony about the heist if he knew how much belly aching he’d do.

The man waved his hand back and forth in front of Tony’s face and turned away from him, whispering sharply, “Damn, Tony. I can smell your breath from here. Eat a Tic Tac, man!”

Tony’s hand continued to shake as he covered his gaping mouth with it. “’Scuse me,” he replied. “Didn’t mean to upset your delicate sensibilities.”

An undeveloped plan followed the pair out of the bar at closing time. Knowing the bar owner meant they’d stayed on drinking well after the public left. Too many whiskeys meant they left half-cocked and ready to rip off Ol’ Man Jenkins of all the copper inside his plumbing warehouse and sell it for scrap. Cyrill and Tony’s small-time burglary could still get them put back in county lockup. Neither man found work since last released from jail, so they needed any quick cash they could scrounge. Quite a risk for so little return, but bad habits stayed with them after their previous incarceration.

Tony glared when Cyrill finger-shushed him again. “I just think this is a bad idea. We should get on back to those boys. Have another beer maybe.” He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, nodded empathically, trying to convince Cyrill of the error of their ways.

“Go on,” Cyrill said, “if you ain’t got the stomach for it.” He sniffed in disgust and settled in against a tree stump, shoulders hunched forward, and stared intently at the metal building he continued to watch. Their mission seemed quite fruitless.

The rumble of a rusted-out exhaust pipe woke them both up a few hours later. Ol’ Man Jenkins’ truck stopped on the gravel path several yards from where they sat. Its owner opened the door with a creak and stepped out to address the due. Hands on his hips, he shook his head and asked, “Now, what have we here?” A fat mutt of a dog tumbled out the door after him, promptly sat down, and scratched briskly at an itch behind its ear that took some digging to remedy.

Tony and Cyrill shook off a hungover sleep still clinging to them and stumbled to standing. Tony practically fell into his friend, who coughed and spat a long line of phlegm off to his side. They both stammered but couldn’t come up with an explanation of their intentions between the pair of them.

Jenkins assessed the situation as best he could. “I don’t quite know what you’re doing,” he grunted, scratching his head like the hound. “My dog don’t seemed too troubled, though, so you must not present too big a threat.”

He kicked up a cloud of dust in their direction and said, “How ‘bout y’all get on outta here, anyway, the both of ya? Do that and I won’t call the Sheriff.” The dog stood up and shook itself all over, floppy ears flipping back and forth across the top of its big head.

Sensing they should take the man at his offer, Tony and Cyrill moved quickly back up the driveway from whence they came in the dark early morning hours. Jenkins motioned toward the truck and opened the door for the dog. “Come on, Pearl. Let’s go back down to the shop. You done yer work for the day.”

*

Image: Tony Hisgett via Flickr

Studio 30+ writing prompt – undeveloped Studio30

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