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The Comfort Zone

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A few months ago, I accepted an invitation from Lili Taylor to join her for a yoga class at a new studio she hadn’t yet tried. Her latest role in a horror film had taken a toll, and she wanted to release some tension at this restorative session. Lili is generally a very down-to-earth person, but she’s accustomed to the swankier sections of L.A. I was a novice not only to the class but that area of the city as well.

The scent of jasmine greeted us upon crossing the threshold of a lavish studio, with its freshly polished teak floors and low lighting that helped immediately reduce our blood pressure. I felt an instantaneous state of Zen. Lili pursed her lips in an affected kiss when I cast her a sideways glance in wide-eyed surprise. The place was amazing!

She warned me, “Now, remember, I don’t know much about the class. An instructor I met on set recommended I come try it out.” Her right eyebrow rose slightly, and she tilted her head to one side. “She seemed a little flaky, though.”

Everything about the studio appeared legitimate — its fancy foyer and decor, a receptionist who greeted us with an indiscernible yet exotic accent, the upscale location. I asked Lili, “What? Does something make you distrust her judgment?” She met some kooky people from time to time.

Nothing in her facial expression made me doubt her, but the steep shrug of her shoulders worried me. “Um, let’s just say that Starfire has a mercurial personality. That’s all.”

I thought I’d heard her correctly but asked, “Your friend’s name is Starfire?” A dubious feeling crept into my stomach. My friends had names like Amanda and Kirsten. Or Lili, for fuck sake. Lili, who noticed a concerned furrow developing in my brow-line. “I’m not used to all this hippy dippy Hollywood stuff,” I whispered to her.

Lili only smirked a little and said, “Come on. It’s supposed to be in the back.” I think I heard her laugh as I followed her down a red, crushed velvet wallpapered hallway.

Starfire stood in front of last doorway, her petite frame ensconced in a short, green Kimono. A thick crown of curls sat piled atop the woman’s head in an unbalanced fulcrum. She looked liked she could tip over at any moment. Instead, she smiled and a bold greeting billowed from her wide mouth. “Oh, Lili, I’m so glad you could make it! You can change in there.” Her hand swept forward in a broad gesture toward an adjacent shower room.

“It’s okay. We’re dressed already,” Lili responded, wagging a finger back and forth between us. As Starfire stepped aside to let two other participants wearing bath robes enter the room, we saw a sign on the door behind her that read, “Yoga with Starfire – Clothing Optional.”

I don’t know what Lili decided to do. I turned and ran back out to the street too quickly to find out.

***

Generated from Studio 30+ writing prompt “mercurialStudio30

Wouldn’t it be fun to go to yoga with Lili Taylor???

(Image: Joel Nilsson Nelson used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license)

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Coincidence

This is what it's like driving through the Karoo desert

The highway stretched out evenly, no curves whatsoever, where I saw the car veer off into the ditch and overturn. It was a beautiful green Mustang, vintage. I don’t know much about cars, but it was an old one. A convertible, as a matter of fact, so the people never had a chance.

I should have stopped but was on my way to meet my friend, Kristine, for lunch. She’d just broken up with her boyfriend and had been pretty upset, so I didn’t want to be late. Plus, I don’t do well in stressful situations. Dealing with Kristine was going to be bad enough. She’s pretty high-maintenance.

The last bit of carnage was visible in my rear-view mirror as I drove away. Some type of scarf or long see-through piece of material blew up over the top before the vehicle crashed. It billowed out from around the driver’s head and cascaded across the empty field after the hunk of twisted metal came to rest. The opaque fabric was still floating skyward when the dust began to settle from the aftermath.

I called 9-1-1, I’m not totally heartless. There was simply nothing I could do. I have no medical training and I’m absolutely no good in an emergency. Other drivers who came upon the wreck pulled over on the shoulder, so I know others were there to help.

The newspaper had a story the next day about the young couple who died in the accident – a tragedy really. They were actually on their way to their wedding. Such a waste.

Reading the article made me realize the woman’s veil was swept into the air at the scene. It gave me chills. Maybe her soul escaped along with it. I believe in providence, so I’d like to think it did.

*The Studio 30+ prompt I should have stopped originally came from Joe.

Studio30Does anyone recognize Kristine?

(image via S. Marx on Flickr)

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Something Amiss

for sale

A pungent smell hit the real estate agent and young couple upon opening the door of the modest home. Ms. Nichols rushed through the entryway to open a window in hopes the room would air out before her customers entered. She wanted to make this sale, as no other prospective buyers had inquired about the low-end property. These folks might be her only chance.

Her sales instinct kicked in, and she tried to downplay the odor. “My, my … it’s a little stuffy in here,” she commented in her flurry to raise another window. The husband covered his nose and mouth and muttered sarcastically, “Damn, more than a little. What is that stench?” His wife elbowed his ribs and quickly shushed him.

The scene startled Nichols. Appalled the house had been left in this condition, she wished the owner had warned her. His seeming desperation to list the property apparently overshadowed its preparation. From a professional standpoint, this showing presented a worst-case scenario.

Beyond being clean, a seller should always keep the place in its most pristine condition. The staging was all wrong. Mr. Blackwell should’ve made his house as nice as possible, maybe even bake cookies or burn a candle to create a homey atmosphere. A pleasant showing experience. Maybe he was single and had no one to help him ready it for viewing.

Instead, a mystery stench overwhelmed the visitors upon their arrival. Quite a fatal mistake. If Blackwell truly wanted to sell, he had to insure all was in order before he left home. No phone call, no forewarning. Nothing.

Ms. Nichols blushed, giggled nervously, and thought to herself, “How could he miss this?” She speculated a dead mouse under the refrigerator had gone undetected.

She issued the couple to other rooms – quickly – as no one wished to prolong their exit. All three covered their noses and mouths upon re-entering the front room. The real estate agent continued to ruminate over the situation and made half-hearted apologies as they left. She saw the pair shaking their heads in disgust or confusion, she couldn’t tell which, as they got in their car and sped away.

Her own head wagged side to side in consternation at the seller’s negligence. She fanned her face and took out her phone to check her voicemail, thinking he may have left an explanatory message. She assumed this must be the first time he’d sold a home and didn’t know what to do. Surely it was inexperience or ignorance on his part.

He knew the truth. The fact of the matter was he hoped to unload the property before anyone discovered what he’d hidden under the living room floor. Blackwell recently moved the couch to cover a spot where he sawed through the hardwood and sub-flooring. He’d hastily stored his late wife’s remains there after he stabbed her to death one week prior.

Panic drove the man to act on impulse and immediately put the house on the market. Leaving in such a rush, he hadn’t considered how to cover up remnants of such an act, this being his first foray into criminal behavior.

Time was of the essence. He had to get out of town before anyone noticed his missus, a so-called homemaker, was missing. Maybe he’d sell the house “as is” and have the company simply wire him the money. Obviously, the murderer hadn’t put much thought into the consequences of his actions.

The phone in Blackwell’s pocket jingled. He saw the real estate agent’s number pop up on the read-out and thought, “Bloody hell, she’s annoying. I might just have to do something about her, too.”

***

The Studio 30+ prompt “he knew the truth” was originally from Kenneth. Studio30

(image: Huffington Post)

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Penalty and Pain

They ran a mule team for plowing their fields and planting crops. Doing so was only as recent as the 1950s, but as Clarence said, “poor people have poor ways.” That was the time before they could afford a tractor, and the kids were used for brute labor. Southern farming families were still strapped for cash after the Great Depression ended, and each year’s yield paid the outstanding bank balances already past due.  from trumanlibrary.org

Needless to say, tensions ran high under such dire circumstances. Having five mouths to feed didn’t help matters either. Clarence was a good provider, if not a stoic man. The financial straits of his family fell hard on his conscience, and he tended to internalize his worry. The children pretended not to notice and went along with their chores as any good God-fearing brood would. Papa didn’t talk to them much but expressed his love with homemade gifts and a hug at Christmastime. Otherwise, they tried to stay out of Clarence’s way.

James Ernest had it the hardest. He was the oldest son still at home, as Lee had escaped to the military as soon as he was of age to enlist. Little Eugene would watch their work from the safety of the back yard, his little black dog trailing along behind him. He and the mutt hung on a dull section of the barbed wire fence separating them from the back pasture.

Eugene looked forward to working in the field some day, having no idea what the toil would do to his body and his happiness. He had the naivete to glamorize the hand-blistering hard work in his imagination because of his inability to partake in his few years of life. Eugene knew nothing of the drudgery from which Lee had fled their home. He only watched from their porch where Mother tasked his sisters with housework, hoping for the day when he could join the men from sunup to sundown.

Papa barked the orders out there, and they were meant to be kept. Each week started with a day of Sunday school and church service, followed by a big family dinner with the cousins and an evening at home in rest. They geared up for the remaining six days spent earning their keep, and James Ernest came to know what was expected of him. Whereas his stature was lean, his strength increased exponentially with each calendar’s succession. He produced an adult’s capacity from a growing boy’s body, his thin arms and sinewy muscles masquerading an extraordinary ability to drive the team alone.

He called to the mules, “On, Jack!  Up now, Jenny!” James Ernest was expected to do some things all by himself during harvest when Deacons’ meetings required Papa’s attendance at the elder council held in town. Clarence was well-respected in their small rural community, and placed a lot of responsibility on James Ernest in his absence.

James Ernest knew all too well the consequences of not fulfilling his obligations. He’d left home to go fishing with a cousin late one Sunday afternoon without asking permission. The bigger mule, Jenny, grazed in the pasture by the barn and sneaked her way past the loose latch on the stall where gain was stored. They worked the animals hard, so the greedy old gal stole more than her fair ration share. By the time James Ernest returned, Papa had already discovered how Jenny ravaged the crib and ate herself sick.

Mules usually have fewer feeding problems than horses, yet she was in bad shape and could’ve been lost to foundering. A lame mule was worthless, and days missed in the field due to the beast’s illness equaled what James Ernest felt on his backside later. The others knew of his punishment, and the girls cried when they found him sobbing and sore in a barn stall afterward. They’d never seen their brother so upset, and he pridefully sniffed back his tears swearing he’d get away from the farm one day just like Lee had done. That incident, among others, stuck in the recesses of his mind.

*****

Years later his wife would speculate why her husband turned out the way he had, what soured him along the way. In retrospect, she wondered what had gone so wrong. What was the inscrutable cause of his agony?  She’d met such a boisterous and happy young man straight out of the Army who turned into a different person in his later years — someone who let his anger go inward, one who grew sullen, introverted and gloomy. Once an admirable, competent, hard-working man, James Ernest transformed into someone — something — else. Alcohol added to his depression and agitated it into a toxic mixture that destroyed his family life.

During one specific outburst, his wife watched James Ernest’s face transmogrify into an unrecognizable fiend expelling consternation. Those hurtful words aimed to retaliate against an unknown opponent in his past but caught his wife in the cross-hairs instead.  Her weak ego couldn’t withstand his transformation and the resulting attacks. A recurring hateful ugliness ultimately cost him the love of his life.

In a more lucid state, James Ernest tried to explain away his behavior. Night terrors hinted at a disturbance deeper than any words could justify. He’d worked to overcome poverty, to gain financial independence and not live by the sweat of his brow. Reaching those goals, however, couldn’t conquer other demons of his past. He realized it was of little consequence but apologized to his ex-wife over and over.  A strong man’s facade dissolved into the countenance of a young boy.

Dejectedly he told her, “You just can’t understand … you don’t know. I can’t tell you everything Papa did to me.”

This post was generated by a weekly Studio 30+ writing prompt — Papa.  Studio 30+

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“Tests of Will” release on Amazon Kindle

Today’s the day!  My new novella, Tests of Will, is now available at Amazon.

Transitioning to college life brings challenges for a Midwestern transplant. Alice Kennedy’s expectations and values are up-ended by more than just her school’s sleepy location. Young women on campus are being stalked. There is a disturbed sadist in their midst, and Alice needs more than her wits to survive when her worst fears are realized.

Alice Kennedy’s story is a somewhat feminist YA thriller with a “whodunnit” slant.  It is categorized as suspense/thriller and contemporary women on Amazon.  Thank you, Kindle Direct Publishing!

The novella is dedicated to the memory of Yeardley Love and the innumerable young women like her who have suffered at the hands of the people they love.  Out of respect for this young woman whose life was cut all too short, please get information about the One Love Foundation at http://www.joinonelove.org/.

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