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Reunited

punch glass

final installment in Reunion series – following New Old Friends

Gwen and Jennifer continued their conversation with Gwen’s husband, Cameron, while sipping vodka-spiked punch that kept the trio in a celebratory mood. They rose glass after glass to toast health and friendship, and the awkward confrontation with Jennifer’s ex earlier in the evening was soon forgotten.

Other classmates stared from adjacent seats, perhaps jealous of their lively exchange, and seemed catatonic in comparison. Laughter exploded from their table and even caught the attention of Matt’s young wife. Despite her bedazzling appearance with no lines emerging  on her face like everyone else’s there, the poor woman looked trapped in a dutiful gloom of boredom. Anyone watching the scene would feel her palpable disappointment at coming to his 20-year high school class reunion.

She could’ve used a drink if not for her husband’s self-proclaimed, if not pretentious, victory over his alcoholism. Jennifer remembered their teenage dalliances during what seemed a short time but actually happened over two decades ago, how she and Matt practiced anything but safe sex. They, as stupid kids, drank a lot and took more chances than other not-so-lucky couples.

What she couldn’t recall was how she and Gwen ever became friends. Was it in class, at lunch, maybe even in the principal’s office? Jen saw enough of the administrative wing back when she spent several days in detention for skipping school with Matt.

Gwen seemed to read her mind. The woman confessed, “We only had one class together, Jennifer. Gym in freshman year. Back when so many girls bullied me because I was big. Bigger than any of them anyway.” Jennifer looked down at her lap in hopes she wasn’t one of them.

“Oh, no,” Gwen said efficaciously. “Not you. You were the only one nice to me in P.E.” Jennifer exhaled, glad to know she hadn’t been one of the culprits. “Or at least took up for me, though you didn’t really know me. You told them to shut up and leave me alone.”

Jennifer nodded, relieved. “I have to admit I don’t remember. Some of those girls were such jerks, I tried to not act like them. They could be so mean. At least I didn’t participate in that.”

Gwen’s husband sat quietly listening to their conversation and reached over to clasp his wife’s folded hands as she stared blankly across the room. Cameron sensed the subject’s obvious sensitivity, as Gwen absentmindedly rubbed the inside of one wrist. After the awkward silence, she nodded toward a group of people standing beside the dance floor. “A couple of them are right over there.”

Cameron and Jennifer turned to look at the bunch, and Jennifer recognized two girls she’d ran around with back in school. Gwen continued, “I was pretty torn up about all that for a while. Even into college when I met Cameron.” She squeezed her husband’s hand, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

“It was hard for me to come tonight, but I vowed to never let people like that bother me again. To be proud of who I am.” Gwen shrugged and laughed, “Cameron always tells me I’m beautiful, even though I know he’s exaggerating.”

“You are to me, hon,” Cameron said. He got up to refresh their empty punch glasses.

A brief silence followed his leaving before Jennifer finally said, “I’m really glad you came up to talk to me tonight, Gwen. I was pretty nervous about coming here myself because I didn’t want to see Matt. You’ve made it fun, and I forgot all about that despicable person. So thanks.”

“You’re welcome. And I want to thank you, too. You made my freshman year a lot more tolerable. Even if you didn’t remember me tonight.” She winked at Jennifer.

Jennifer’s mouth fell open in fake shock. “Was it that obvious?” They laughed.

“No worries,” Gwen told her. “It doesn’t matter, because we’re friends now.” She glanced up at her husband’s return to the table. He held three partially-filled glasses of punch, and Gwen pulled a bottle of clear alcohol out of her purse to fill the remaining space in each. “Let’s toast to that!”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – efficacious s30p

Image: blogto.com

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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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Dirty Tricks

cemetery

Gravel-road cruising while getting drunk was not her favorite weekend activity, but stopping at a church cemetery off the beaten path rated even worse. Blythe agreed to go with a friend because the duo had been invited by boys, one on whom Caroline had a crush, and his buddy didn’t want to be a third wheel.

“Caroline, you are going to owe me big time,” she whispered in the girl’s ear when the driver turned to head out of town. Cute or not, these guys seemed up to no good. Alcohol only exacerbated their fiendishness.

Dylan and Bradley laughed, as if sharing an inside joke, and practically fell out of the truck when it slid to a stop. “I’m gonna go take a piss,” the driver announced. His friend chuckled knowingly and agreed, “Yeah, I gotta go, too,” and trailed after him. The two took off at a sprint and disappeared into the darkness beyond a line of decrepit grave markers. Whatever they aimed to do, Blythe wanted no part of it.

She grabbed Caroline’s arm when she started to slide across the seat toward the door. “This is not a good idea, Caroline,” she warned, but the girl jumped out anyway. “Oh, come on! Don’t be such an old lady, Blythe.”

Caroline pulled Blythe unwillingly out of the truck and across the grass, wet with dew, and headed toward the church. Blythe’s feet became soaked and grew cold, and she began to shiver. “This place is giving me the creeps,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here. It seems disrespectful.”

“Let’s go, Blythe! We should look for the guys. See what they’re up to,” Caroline urged as they crossed the cemetery gate. She could be such an airhead when she liked someone, especially a goofball like Bradley.

Blythe replied, “No way. I don’t care where those jerks went.” She regretted her decision when she gaped out at the emptiness surrounding her and suddenly felt scared. All she could see was a mist obscuring most of the landscape. A mishmash of tombstones stood in the distance, some upright and others leaning in disrepair.

Half expecting a revenant being to emerge above the monuments, Blythe crouched down behind one to hide. Her hands shook as she peeked around its rough stone edges to see if anyone else was near. Touching the grave marker chilled her fingertips even more. “Damn you guys,” she muttered under her breath, not daring to make any noise.

The vista lay menacingly in front of her. She felt in her bones that nothing good would come of the situation, and a chill ran down her spine. She thought of an old superstition about how a shiver meant someone walked across your grave.

“Come back, Caroline,” she whispered into the blank night as loudly as she dared. Blinking back tears, she squinted her eyes tightly in disbelief at the frightening sight a hundred yards or so away from her position. The girl froze in horror.

Spectral images floated above the lowest level of fog hugging the ground. She had a hard time believing her eyes and wished she hadn’t accepted her friend’s invitation to come out. Being back at home beneath warm blankets would’ve been so much wiser.

“It isn’t real! It isn’t real!” she kept repeating to convince herself while mentally berating Caroline for talking her into coming on such a hair-brained roadtrip. She felt a breeze rush past her that gently glided across her body and rose goose-bumps on her skin.

Blythe parted her lips slightly to call out for her friend but dared not bring the wraiths’ attention her way. She could hear the boys laughter echoing from out beyond the church yard but had no idea where they could be. Caroline was nowhere to be seen either, so Blythe decided it was now or never.

She jumped up and ran back to the truck to discover the keys still in the ignition, which solidified her decision to abandon them all. She felt bad about leaving Caroline, but it was every woman for herself.

Fleeing the scene as quickly as she could, Blythe glanced into the rearview mirror. She felt only slight remorse at seeing either Dylan or Bradley, but not knowing which one, running down the gravel road after the truck. His arms pin wheeled in the air as if grasping for help. Although slightly blurred by dust spun up from the tires, several wavering figures appeared to be following closely behind the boy.

“Sucks to be you,” Blythe groaned. She stepped on the gas pedal and sped away.

 

– photo: Garrett Gabriel via Flickr

s30p*writing prompt – revenant

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Family Values

70s bike

My fuchsia bicycle with the flowered banana-seat conveyed me all over town, my travel unrestricted. Stranger Danger didn’t get forced on a kid in the ‘70s like the present day. I pedaled pretty much anywhere the strength of my legs could take me.

I got to ride that bike to visit my friend, Veronica, from school. My mother knew where I was going and said, “You can go but only if you don’t tell your daddy.” I could ride my bike there by myself, but my father would’ve forbidden me from going. I’d never been to a black family’s house in my nine years of life.

This was the 1970s, not Jim Crow, not the segregated South, although the Midwest wasn’t exactly a cozy nest of inclusion. Few of my elementary school classmates were black, whom I could count on one hand from three third-grade classrooms.

Our home may have been typical in a small town, but I didn’t know since kids didn’t compare notes. While my mother didn’t condone our dad’s racism, her inaction was complicit. She’d also been raised to think the races need to remain separate, to “stick with their own.” She must’ve fallen into a torpor from the seeming normalness of that environment. Almost as if you can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em in their prejudice.

My dad was inexorable and totally justified in his behavior. We’d been raised with this example as normal, but we knew better inside. Such an ugly secret we hid behind closed doors felt wrong. The balance of our blooming consciences grew lopsided to what seemed right, no matter what we knew as normal in our home.

Me and my sisters were warned to never bring a black or Asian guy home or we’d have no home. We’d be disowned, which scared me enough to never dated outside my race. As a teenager, I realized what bigotry meant but that my father wasn’t even a consistent bigot. He wouldn’t been fine with one of us dating someone Native American, but he would’ve lost his shit with any of us dating an African American.

He once said, “I know one at work, and he’s okay. He’s a hard worker.” Like that was a bonus, as if the man would otherwise slack because of being born black. I have no idea what caused his negativity about other races. It didn’t seem personal. His parents never acted that way. Their rural background likely didn’t involve much, if any, interaction with anyone other than white people. Maybe simple isolation took its toll on him.

My dad’s racist attitude and language overshadowed his other virtues. Being a hard worker who provided and care for his family didn’t weigh as heavy as the hatred and inconsistencies I witnessed. Someone who claimed, “Never think you’re better than anyone else,” was the same one who told us who could be our friends. I remember him saying, “Nobody is any better than you either, no matter how much money they have.” Such mixed messages.

He didn’t like Jews and gave running commentary on the nightly news, especially if it included the likes of Henry Kissinger or JFK, although he never gave a reason why. Astonishingly enough, I think he voted Democrat. We couldn’t watch video of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine without a hateful diatribe if our dad walked into the room. Why demonize these people we didn’t even know?

It was personal for me. Veronica was my friend, and going to her house excited. Everyone welcomed me there. With its unique decorations and varied kitchen aromas (as in anyone else’s home), theirs was an average middle-class household. We lived on the north side of the railroad tracks that delineated the poorer side of town. Ironically, I crossed those tracks to go to Veronica’s house not five or six blocks further down the same street.

I came home afterward to report, “Mom, Veronica has three mamas. They all live at her house.” Looking back, I imagine extended family lived there. My mom made sure to explain that couldn’t be right, that they must be different.

Always different, never the same. Making folks different could keep us separate. Twenty-three years after his death I still wonder what stemmed my father’s antipathy.

I’m lucky to have learned a different way of living by moving to a bigger city and meeting individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and lifestyles. My own life experience is richer for it. I know people are ultimately just people.

Some of those people are good and others bad, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, indifference exists in all human beings. A generation later, I could cross railroad tracks all over the country — or the world — and find the same wherever my wheels take me. But making it personal makes it better.

Photo: deer_je via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt: bonus

Studio30

With a sad spirit, these thoughts are dedicated to a transcendent artist now missed by the world – RIP Prince.

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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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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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