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Crossed Signals

drive thru.jpg

She didn’t ever pretend not to like or eat at McDonald’s. Truth was, Shannon had a serious love affair going with the dollar menu. Being broke made her frequent stops a necessity. With luck on her side, doing so left no acne or weight gain. Anybody who professed to avoid fast food at all cost had to be lying. What a bunch of fake, pretentious phonies, she thought.

A red truck caught her eye as she exited the restaurant. Shannon tried to hide behind the over-sized Styrofoam cup, straw planted firmly in her mouth to infuse some courage via caffeine. “Oh, great. There’s Lane. Why is this happening today?

Crossing his path was inevitable. Maybe a simple wave would suffice, so she flashed a half-heartened one at him as she quickened her steps in the opposite direction.

Too late. Living in a such a small town spawned such awkward situations. He’d already parked and walked toward her, a tentative smile on his face. A week had passed since his last text message and almost two weeks since their last date.

“Hey, how are you?” Lane sounded genuinely glad to see her, but she didn’t trust it.

Displeasure spread across Shannon’s expression as she tried to force her mouth into a smile. “All right,” she told him but kept walking toward her car. “You?” The response came out less than chipper, which mirrored her feelings at not hearing from him.

Lane looked at her back, confused, as she walked from him. “Doing well,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to call but was out of town all week for work.”

Shannon didn’t stop or even look at him as he spoke. Instead, she flipped a hand back over her shoulder in dismissal. Her only reaction came mentally. “I don’t want to listen to your excuses.

He didn’t understand why Shannon acted so cold. “Okay then,” he said dejectedly. “Have a good one.”

If sincere, and he truly meant for her to have a good day, the sentiment fell short of its intention. She wasn’t buying it.

She spun on him. “Just what the hell does that mean anyway?” Her anger began to roil. “A good what? A good lunch? A good trip? A good snog? Your flip comment is just too damn ambiguous!”

Lane backed away from her slowly, raising his hands to relent, wondering how he got into such a mess. “No offense, Shannon. I didn’t mean anything by it. I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings somehow.” That sorrowful expression made her want to believe him.

“Then just say goodbye. Wish me a ‘good day.’ Not a ‘good one,’” she emphasized. “I’m having a good day no matter what you say.”

She didn’t even know why she was so upset. They’d only been on two dates. No big deal. But didn’t we have a good time, she mused. We laughed a lot. We had fun.

It was simply the principle of the deal. The same old story. A blossoming friendship cut off before it had a chance to turn into anything more.

It’s not like I’m some mouth-breathing cretin. Whoever he likes probably works out all the time, never eats fast food, and has perfectly straight teeth. There seemed a chasm between her and the women she imagined him dating.

Shannon could see Lane still standing there in the parking lot, hands in his pockets and kicking at the asphalt with one foot, as she drove away. “So much for Valentine’s Day,” he muttered. “Guess I’ll just get a Big Mac.”

*Two Word Tuesday writing prompt – mess

(photo: wildwise studio 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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Someone to Watch Over Her

squirrel

“I don’t want to see you ever darken this door again,” her father shouted at Delilah as she stood dazed in the front yard, dead grass crunching under her footsteps in the autumn chill. He apparently didn’t care if the whole neighborhood heard their family row.

She stooped to pick up all the clothing she could carry, a couple t-shirts, a jacket, and two pairs of jeans that wouldn’t fit her much longer. Her mother must have at least put together the overnight bag beside the front door that held her makeup bag and some underwear. For that, the 16-year old was grateful. The girl stuffed everything she could fit inside the bag and sunk down to her knees on the lawn, not knowing where to go.

Her dad glared at her with disdain and said, “No daughter of mine is going to get knocked up and expect to come live back here. Go back to that boy who done got ya in trouble!” The glass shook when he violently slammed the door to finalize his point.

Delilah looked up from her spot on the ground, searched the sky to beg God’s help in deciding what to do, and spied the tiny brown ceramic squirrels perched on the roof’s eave. Her dad had affixed the puffy-tailed mother and baby rodents there, and she always feared they’d fall down in a strong wind and break. Instead, they now stared accusingly down at her.

A crow in a tree behind the girl squawked its own disapproval at the scene. Delilah had known no other home than the dingy single-story structure before her. A bevy of children existed within those walls. Too many for their parents to control.

Delilah thought back to the halcyon of growing up there with her sisters, playing outside with Barbies, and using cardboard for dollhouses and tissue boxes for little beds. They used any scrap of fabric salvaged from Mom’s sewing basket as a makeshift outfit or blanket, resourceful as they were with few toys. She reminisced over good times they experienced as innocent kids.

She remembered her tea parties with discarded cups and chipped saucers begged for before those wares went to the garbage. Pinkies raised, the girls sat in the garden with the squirrel duo envying the gathering from atop the house. The sisters sipped water while wearing old hats, straw ones with holes or a brother’s ball cap to portray the only man interested in attending such an affair, pretending their soiree included canapes and creamy petit fours.

The brothers bothered them little if roaming the neighborhood or playing stickball in the street. Harassment occurred in the dark of night with Mother unaware. Three sisters shared a single bed, but Norman would slip his hand up beneath the covers without waking up Frannie, Delilah’s older sister. She’d never have let Norman bother Delilah like that had she known.

Delilah learned to distrust Norman and other boys like him. He threatened to hurt their youngest sister if she told, so Delilah lived silently with the abuse to keep the little one safe from him. Her father never suspected a thing. He didn’t realize what Norman did to her when their parents weren’t home.

Her dad didn’t know much of anything, because he never paid any attention. All the girls begged for his affection but only got it on Christmas morning with a slight hug, a peck on the cheek and the slightest smile the man could muster at them. Delilah often wondered why he even wanted to have kids at all if he could only stand to be around the boys.

Those boys were hardly ever disciplined. He didn’t keep Norman from hurting her. And now he wondered why she gone to her boyfriend for love and attention?

“You never cease to amaze me, Daddy,” Delilah muttered defeatedly even though he didn’t hear her. He’d gone back to his television and turned up the volume to shut out the world and signify to any nosey neighbors that the show was over.

She had no other choice but to move on and hoped her friend Jenny’s mother would allow her to stay at their house for awhile. Her boyfriend’s parents were against them dating, much less her expecting his baby. They would freak when they found out, so she didn’t dare ask for hospitality there.

Delilah searched the ground around her to see if anything else she owned was scattered about it, discarded like so much trash, and found a rock within arm’s reach. She picked it up and chucked it toward the Mother squirrel on the edge of the roof. “I hope you fall,” she told it. She sobbed into her sleeve and thought, “You should’ve noticed, Mother. You should’ve seen.”

*Click the link above to read previous installments in Delilah’s Dilemma.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – halcyon Studio30

“What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life

in our bodies, we are determined to rush

to see the sun the other way around?”

Elizabeth Bishop

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Wavering Doubt

hands

Tricia accepted Kevin’s marriage proposal not long after college graduation. Having known each other since freshman year convinced her of their union’s likelihood to succeed. She grew up an only child, and Kevin had five siblings, so the couple had a great basis of comparison to decide they wanted a child to make their family feel more complete. Set on starting a family right away, they tried to conceive for two years before ever considering an adoption.

Breathless from his rush home from work to deliver the news, Kevin told his wife, “You’re never going to believe this, Tricia. My co-worker friend and I were talking about the possibility of a private adoption. He knows someone whose son got a girl pregnant, and they’re going to give up the baby.”

Skepticism usually got the best of her. “Slow down, Kevin,” Tricia replied. “Are you talking about us – like we could get their baby?”

He continued the story with great aplomb. “Now, keep an open mind here. The boys’ parents don’t want their son forced into a marriage so young. They want him to go to college. I think it sounds like the perfect opportunity for us, and they seem like great people.” After months of speaking with agencies, Kevin hoped to make the transaction as simple and painless as possible. He tried his best to assure his wife of the deal’s simplicity.

Tricia was dubious and eyed him suspiciously. “So, what? We just call our lawyer and have some papers drawn up like we’re buying a new car? If something sounds too good to be true, Kevin, it usually is.”

Shaking his head vehemently and clasping her hands in his, Kevin replied soothingly, knowing the key concepts to mention in order to control any conversation with his wife. “It will be practically effortless, and I’ll take care of everything,” he said. “Just wait and see. All you have to do is shop for a crib and finish preparing the nursery.

His condescension unnerved Tricia, but she realized how Kevin keeping matters under his control was important to him. Otherwise, Tricia’s attitude was badly canted against his hints at superiority. They’d lived together long enough to figure out her husband’s mind games. Still, she acquiesced, “We can at least discuss it with our lawyer.”

A quick six weeks later they signed adoption paperwork and met a social worker at the hospital where little Molly was born. Tricia worried so long that something would inevitably go wrong, and now they were set to take home a newborn. The immediate onset of motherhood overwhelmed her, as most couples wait months to finalize such details, but she also felt some relief when they received their daughter.

A fine blond fuzz covered her perfect little head, and the baby’s tiny finger and toenails were so delicate. One look in those deep blue eyes and Tricia fell in love immediately. “I can’t imagine you belonging to anyone but me,” she told the sleeping infant tightly clenched in her arms.

Tricia suffered the girl’s young lifespan in fear of Molly finding out her birth mother’s identity. What if Molly found out who she was and wanted to be with her instead of Tricia and Kevin? A paranoid fear overwhelmed her at times.

She worried that the woman hadn’t wanted to give her up in the first place and would stop at nothing to get her daughter back. That’s how she imagined herself feeling if the situation was reversed.Tricia was afraid Molly’s “real mom” would someday find the girl and brainwash her into leaving them, disappearing with her into oblivion, and she could barely stand the notion of losing Molly.

Kevin found Tricia crying at times, a sickly pallor to her face from not eating for days, she worked herself up into such a frenzy. “Tricia, honey,” he begged her, “you have to tell me what’s the matter. How can I help you if I don’t know what’s wrong?”

She sobbed, “You just don’t understand. I have no assurance.” She didn’t trust him with her feelings and never shared those fears. Years went by with her wondering about Molly’s maternal origins, agonizing over whether that woman would sneak back into Molly’s life and steal her affection.

Only Kevin knew the reality. His co-worker hadn’t put him in touch with an adoptive family but had sealed the deal himself. The man he contacted, in truth, was Molly’s own grandfather. His son got the young woman in trouble and meant to simply fix the problem for him. The boy’s mother forced her husband and son to make the issue go away, as their precious reputation in the community mattered more to her than the child’s well-being. Kevin and Tricia conveniently agreed to letting legal counsel make quiet arrangements.

Kevin lied to Tricia by omission of that pertinent information, though. Her suspicion of the details was indefinite but not unfounded. It just all happened too easily.

Now, all these years later, a late-night greeting at her adult daughter’s door unveiled the truth about the woman who actually bore Molly — a down-on-her-luck teenager who let her boyfriend and his parents talk her into forfeiting her illegitimate baby. In turn, the act changed her daughter’s destiny.

“I thought I didn’t care to know about my real mother,” Molly pondered, “but now Byron’s revelations have piqued my curiosity. What drove Delilah to do what she did? Why couldn’t she care for me?”

Even though she’d never tell her adoptive mother what she was about to do, Molly bit her lip and slowly opened the desk drawer where she’d stored Byron’s telephone number.


(Click the “late-night greeting” link above to read the previous installment in Delilah’s Dilemma)

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – brainwash  Studio30

image: T. Pierce via Flickr

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Cupid’s Revenge

Paired-Wedding-Bells-with-Rose-Detail---Close-Up

“Trust me, you’ll think he’s great,” her friend said convincingly. A mutual acquaintance set Delilah up on a date with Franklin, citing the two had a lot in commons. She claimed their senses of humor were comparable, but the woman knew they were both lonesome. The friend didn’t mention Franklin’s past, his short jail stint, as she knew him only as her husband’s co-worker and found that detail irrelevant in light of their situations.

Delilah didn’t realize that Franklin had gone off the deep end, as they say, after his father’s sudden death. He took it hard when his patriarch developed an intense infection from a Locust thorn that gouged him while clearing a fence row. The man went septic, died soon afterward, and his son spent months questioning the fairness of life but didn’t find the answer in the bottom of a whiskey bottle where he searched for it.

He felt the world conspired against him and fought back in a booze-addled rage until the day he awoke on the floor, luckily face down in his own vomit instead of on his back lethally ingesting it. Turning his life around led him to a new job, and in turn, meant his co-worker’s wife introduced him to such a wonderful woman.

Delilah hadn’t seen that side of him and never knew he was quite the rabble-rouser in his day. “The past belongs in the past, honey,” he told her when their relationship grew serious.

She said, “I just wanna know all about the man I’m gonna marry, Franklin.” Testing the waters, she hoped to find out if he’d truly accept her. The truth was, she hid secrets from her own life she hoped to keep from her fiancé, the baby she’d given up for adoption as a teenager, things she’d done for money in desperation.

Their wedding day arrived with neither one the wiser. Franklin’s co-worker was his best man, and the co-worker’s wife who had introduced the couple served as Delilah’s attendant. The two beamed with happiness and congratulated themselves on their successful match-making skills.

“I’ve waited my whole life for this day,” the expectant bride whispered in his ear upon when she stepped beside him and slipped her hand through his crooked elbow at the altar.

They’d scrimped and saved enough money for a wonderful honeymoon in a tropical paradise and left the wedding ceremony in a heated rush for the airport. Franklin, lost in his newly-wedded bliss, sped down the Interstate in attempt to catch their flight. His euphoric state became a miasma of emotion when he saw the trooper’s flashing lights in the rear-view mirror.

“Oh, no … Franklin, it’s all right,” Delilah coaxed, trying to settle a rising temper she’d never seen in him before. He pounded his fists on the steering wheel at the officer’s approach, a crimson complexion clashing with his beige linen wedding suit. His new wife tried stroking Franklin’s shoulder to calm him but recoiled when he struck out at her in reflex. Blood splashed across her lapel as her lip split, and she shrieked in shock and pain.

Everything else happened too quickly for her to accurately recall later. An outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court after Franklin’s last arrest meant was soon revealed when his license ran through the law enforcement database. Delilah never knew about the snub-nose pistol her husband had stashed under the front seat and was horrified when he brandished it at the command to step out of the car and put his hands behind his back.

“I love you, darlin’, and I’m truly sorry,” Franklin told her before rolling out of the driver’s door and firing shots at the officer. His past finally caught up with him, but he wouldn’t let the law steal his happiness.

The most joyous day of Delilah’s life simultaneously became the most tragic.

***

Studio30Studio 30+ prompt – rabble-rouser

(image: bridalguide.com)

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A Fine Line

She sat staring out the window with a glazed look in her eyes, a fiendish grin on her face that would champion the Cheshire cat. Some would say the girl was downright devilish. Wrongdoing never held a place in her plan, simply meeting her goal would make her happy.

“I knew I wouldn’t meet her expectations,” she told her friend. “It wasn’t about making a good impression. That could never happen.” Her friend nodded in agreement.

The police had relinquished custody to her friend. Released on her own recognizance, they said, but in truth turned her over to a more mature person who possessed no criminal record herself. The girl’s juvenile record followed her, and the past caught up with her once again. She’d never be able to repay the favors she owed her friend.

“They picked me up by the office’s back door. You know, down by the railroad tracks. Where the dumpster usually hides the view from the street. I thought I could go unnoticed there,” Rachel’s confession continued.

635565967921855514-NIGHT-POLICE-LIGHTS

Her friend acquiesced to listen in silence, almost like a priest behind a confessional screen and not a confidant across the kitchen table. The woman sipped her tea, quiet in her contemplation. She struggled to understand Rachel’s motivation for such an act.

“I thought if the doctor wouldn’t return my phone call, I would do something to make her take notice. Professionals have an obligation to their patients, right?” Her friend nodded slowly, hoping not to agitate the girl any further.

“The rock somehow broke the window. I didn’t even realize I had it in my hand,” Rachel muttered, her gaze fixed on the side yard outside the window through which she still stared. “I kind of feel bad about it, but then again I don’t.”

The slightly sinister smirk returned to Rachel’s face, but her friend wanted no part in condoning the behavior. Her previous nod shifted to a disagreeing shake from side to side. “You know you’ll be expected to pay for the damage, and you’re damn lucky to be released to my care.”

Rachel shrugged and tossed her head slightly aside. Remorse wasn’t her style.

The older woman sighed deeply, desperate to reach the girl somehow. “This self-fulfilling prophecy is getting you nowhere,” she said. “Nobody in that clinic will agree to see you now. How do you plan to find a new counselor?”

Rachel’s attention faded. Something beyond the cigarette-stained glass pulled her thoughts away from the conversation.

She vaguely remembered seeing broken glass scattered across the pavement and hearing it crunch beneath her step, but she didn’t know how it got there. After grinding the shards with the heel of her shoe, she squinted at squad car lights flashing in her eyes and wondered what they wanted. Rachel had smiled up at the officers and simply said hello.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – fiendish

(image: news10.net) Studio30

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Baggage

mirror

Lela jabbered incessantly all day long about nothing at all – just liked the sound of her own voice. Always telling people what to do, acting like she knew what’s best for everyone. Like Madame Lela, the Clairvoyant, according to her boyfriend. As much as that girl talked, a person would think fortune-telling ran in her family.

Clark got tired of it. So he left her, right out of the blue. “Bet she didn’t see that one coming,” he told a buddy. “Just this once she didn’t know everything, the cow.” He used a few other choice words, being quite the muckspout he was, not to be repeated in polite company. His friend went along with him and laughed at the crude humor at Lela’s expense.

They had each other’s back, so Clark’s group rejected Lela outright when he did. She never knew the complete truth of why Clark broke up with her, and she remained devastated for weeks — moping around the house, lighting one cigarette with the other, and binge-watching old seasons of M*A*S*H on Netflix. She went into raving histrionics when Radar walked in the O.R. to announce Henry’s plane went down over the Sea of Japan. That one always got to her.

The day came when Lela caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, though. Her reflection spoke volumes about her weakened state, and she didn’t like what it had to say. No voice was necessary for it to cudgel her already damaged ego. Red-rimmed eyes with gray half-moons shadowing beneath them stared back at her. A chocolate-induced breakout accompanied an otherwise sallow complexion, and she barely recognized the woman in the oval-shaped glass.

“That’s it,” Lela told the visage. “No more of this pity party. Hot Lips Houlihan would pine after no man.” She vowed renewal and threw away the remainders of her Reese’s stash, washed with medicated face soap, and used a little Preparation H on those puffy bags. In a few more days Lela felt ready to face the world as a new woman.

Her self-talk worked wonders, and she soon joined friends for happy hour. Relishing their camaraderie and conversation, her confidence soon returned. Lela found the companionship of people other than Clark and his friends to be exactly the positive influence she needed.

“This bunch has such interesting things to say,” she thought. “I can barely get a word in edgewise.”

Lela silently vowed to go home and cancel her Netflix subscription if the current experience foretold her impending social life. She pondered out loud, “Why didn’t I agree to go out with you all sooner?” The woman next to her winked and said, “Must have been that extra weight you had tying you down. Wasn’t his name Clark?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I just knew that was destined for a quick ending.” Lela smiled and finished her drink.

Studio 30+ writing prompt – clairvoyant

Studio30(photo:  Melissa on Flickr)

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Life Lessons

sink

Her classmate’s shriek and frightened reaction surprised Kelsey, and she wrinkled up her forehead in feigned disgust. “You oughtn’t to be afraid of a little spider. You think you’re gonna be a nurse, and that scares you?”

The other student exaggerated, “It’s not little … that thing’s huge!” She’d plastered herself against the opposite wall, hands splayed against it as if the bricks could provide protection, and obvious fear showed in her expression. Kelsey asked the girl, “You remember that old song about spiders and snakes from the 70s? My aunt used to sing it when she’d chop a snake in half with a hoe out in the tall grass.”

She continued mockingly, “You’re going to have to renounce your womanhood if you can’t even squash a bug.” She shook her head. “It’s just a garden spider. Hell, they eat the rest of the bugs, the ones that actually bite. You should say ‘thanks’ instead of running from it.” Kelsey had the benefit of growing up on her Aunt Augstine and Uncle Albert’s farm. Something this innocuous didn’t bother her much.

She witnessed much more graphic incidences, especially at slaughter time. Cattle going to their final demise to put food on the table ranked higher on a scale of gruesome acts than killing a spider. Kelsey took off her sandal and smacked it against the porcelain, eyeing her classmate all the while, and missed seeing the brown and yellow mess she made. ”You’ll find out when you have to help remove one from a patient’s bum someday,” she laughed condescendingly.

Both took Anatomy I and dissected a sheep’s brain in class only that week prior. Several of the girls reluctantly watched as a braver number of them sliced into the small organs, with some complexions turning as gray as their specimens. Kelsey loved the experiment and delved into it with no qualms.

Helping with geldings and breech calf deliveries hardly bothered Kelsey. She learned to overcome a squeamish stomach during such procedures over time, as she followed Augustine’s courageous example. The woman served as her mentor, and Kelsey looked up to her more than anyone she knew. Maybe even more than Uncle Albert. Taking care of livestock was a necessity and meant survival on the farm. “Brace up, girl,” Augustine admonished. “You ain’t gonna get very far in life if you let everything bother you.”

Kelsey overcame a miasma of sights, sounds and smells few other girls could withstand at such a young age. A small spider in a sink at school felt relatively miniscule in comparison to her. She may not make a 4.0 this semester but grew more confident when she tackled each new academic feat that came along.

Glancing down at the mushy arachnid remnants, some of which mixed with water pouring from the faucet to swirl it down the drain. Kelsey stared at the circling water, lost in reverie, and thought of all the fluids she saw on her aunt and uncle’s farm. She thought of how Augustine could saddle break a horse or dehorn a cow right alongside Albert or any other man. She remembered watching her aunt perform rectal palpations on many a heifer to check for pregnancy.

Augustine had to think of the “bottom line” (no pun intended) and did what needed to be done, especially after her husband died of a heart attack one planting season. She learned from experience, not at a college, and kept the farm going years after he was gone. Her aunt was paying for Kelsey’s tuition, and she owed her everything. She hoped to live up to Augustine’s expectations. “I think that was a Jim Stafford song about spiders and snakes she used to sing,” she said musingly.

A voice behind her questioned, “Are you going to turn off the water?” Kelsey came back from her daydream and pushed down on the tap. The last little spindly leg washed down the drain, and Kelsey turned to face her classmate. She said, “I got this one. You help me study for the next exam, okay?”

***

Studio 30+ writing prompt – renounce Studio30

Image: Jana on Flickr

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”
Maya Angelou

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Filed under creative non-fiction, writing

Back-to-school Blues

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Bright magenta peonies with a tall sprig of ornamental grass sprouting from their center graced the corner of their neighbor’s lawn. Such a lush grouping never hinted a seasonal onslaught loomed so close in the distance. The assortment would dry and wither as autumn sucked away the nutrients supplying that color.

Cleve followed his big brother’s school bus all the way down the street as it passed the flora and left their neighborhood. He hated to see summer end and his older brother go back to school. His legs couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with the vehicle, as it turned the corner and accelerated down the block. Marvin turned to wave through the back window.

The kid watched the bus fade into the distance and began to lose his balance from the sobs that began to rack his slim shoulders, their freckles barely starting to fade. Cleve put a bare foot down on the pavement before he wrecked and tumbled to the street. A crash of the aluminum frame joined the sound of Cleve’s crying as the bike fell to the ground. He lost himself to sadness and sat down heavily. Still wearing his thin summer pajamas, he shuddered in the chilled morning air.

Recent memories flashed through his young mind as he longed to be back at the swimming pool playing Marco Polo. Lakeshore rocks under his bottom while his fished with his brother felt better than the smooth concrete beneath him now. Sweltering games at the baseball diamond where Marvin made a double play only a few weeks ago differed greatly from the cooler temperatures already descending each evening. It all ended so quickly, and now the boy sat on the damp pavement of their quiet street with only a few birds trilling from treetops.

Cleve resented their cheerful music. “Shush,” he muttered half-heartedly.

He looked up from where he’d crumpled and saw his mother strolling up the block toward him, having watched her youngest son follow the yellow bus Marvin climbed aboard minutes prior. Kleenex appeared from her right pocket and a chocolate Pop-Tart from the other as she reached him. The boy never realized his mother’s power to produce a magical elixir when the situation called for it, but its soothing effect was not lost on him.

“Mom, I don’t want Marvin to be in second grade,” he told her and grabbed the woman around her calves, tears coming in a new torrent. “And I never want to go to school either – it’s stupid,” he declared. “I want to stay with you.”

She looked down into the well of his brown eyes and shook her head in pity, not wanting to quibble the details requiring this little one to join his brother on that bus next year. Her heart breaking for her son and with a sorrow she knew all too well herself, she replied, “I know, honey. I’ll keep you at home with me as long as I can.”

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – quibble

Studio30(photo: Eric E. Johnson via Flickr)

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