Wednesday, February 27, 2013

February With a Twist #7: Odd Goods

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind.

This picture made me very happy to think on, puts in the hometown of my heart, Nome, Alaska. Part of me will always live there.  And I miss my sled dog.

embracing winter

Image courtesy of Jamie in Bytown via attribution license on Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution Link
It was the modern equivalent of a mail-order bride, Susan's horrified mother had claimed. But, then, trying the same thing again and expecting different results was the definition of insanity, wasn't it? And she had tried it all. Speed dating. Church groups. Letting friends set her up on the basis of her "nice personality."

So what if he lived in Alaska. It was just another place, wasn't it? Maybe it would be better than here. Susan liked what he'd had to say in his emails and over the phone. His picture was probably an honest one. It matched the age he claimed and wasn't too handsome to be believed. She'd sent an honest photo herself and he hadn't backed away.

What was that saying about Alaskan men? The odds are good, but the goods are odd. She could do with some good odds, even at the price of odd goods. And Michael seemed less odd, at least over the phone, than many of the friends-of-friends she'd spent awkward evenings with over the past ten years.

So, she'd bought the plane ticket and taken the trip. She pushed down all the thoughts about the worst that could happen and tried to find her adventurer's spirit.  No one thought this was a good idea.

She'd done her best to prepare, but she knew as soon as she stepped off the plane that the gear she bought in Ohio wasn't going to cut it. He was thoughtful though. He had a pair of bunny boots and some real gear waiting in his truck. He'd shown her the guest room in his small, but well-kept home, then walked her out to the dog kennels.

He seemed really happy when she asked if she could go for a ride. Susan had a good feeling about this one. This could be the ride of her life.

February with a Twist #6

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist," a project +Becket Moorby  has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project  on Google +. These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind. I'm happy to be able to write again after suffering through a fever these past five days.
all in

Image courtesy of Southern Arkansas University via attribution license on Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution Link)


Phillip was counting the coins again. It was a meditation for him, a way to calm whenever he felt shaky and big crowds upset him. Brandon knew that, so he was grateful Phillip had agreed to come down to the park. It wasn't easy for Phillip, but he came willingly, for his brother.

There, at the end of the table, Brandon could see the girl he'd been hoping to see. He didn't know her name yet, but he already had a favorite among the pairs of short denim shorts she favored. He liked the ones with the silver fan designs on the pockets. She was wearing them now. When she looked back their direction, he smiled at her. It felt like one of those moments--shared laughter across a room, an inside joke.

Still, he was surprised when she walked their direction. He started to rise to greet her. More surprised yet when she sat down opposite Phillip and took his hand in hers. "Hi Philip!" she said. Her voice was bright, but sincere. Did she know his brother?  "I've missed you, Baby." Baby? Phillip kept counting his coins, smiling his little smile, but he didn't pull back his hand. Phillip, who had trouble letting his big brother touch him, was letting this girl hold his hand?

Without letting go of Phillip's hand, the girl smiled at Brandon. "You must be Brandon. I'm Kandace. I'm Philip's girlfriend."

Friday, February 22, 2013

Flash Fiction February #5

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind.

I'm cheating a little tonight. I feel lousy (thanks schoolkids--so happy to have your newest virus).  And this picture seems perfect for this scene: one from my first novel (the one I'm trying to finish a rewrite of so I can start submitting). So, here's Kirk at the Beach in a scene called "Decisions."

Thanks for reading!

 Image courtesy of gillyberlin via attribution license on Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution Link)
Kirk sat in the damp sand. Sherry was asleep, and would be for a couple more hours, thanks to the Ambien her doctor had prescribed. Kirk was tired, too, but was still up early to watch the sun rise. It would be a waste to be at the beach and not watch the sunrise.

It was chilly this morning, and the dampness was seeping through Kirk’s pants. He shivered a little and pulled his knees in to hug them against his chest. Even before, well, before all this, Sherry wouldn’t have been with him this morning. Even on their honeymoon. “Vacations are for sleeping,” she said, and “I’m more of a sunset sort of girl.”

He had smiled, swallowing the disappointment that she wouldn’t share even one of the mornings with him. He didn’t want to push. Maybe he should have. He could have explained how special beach sunrises were to him, how he and his mother had shared them when he was a child, trying to sneak out of the beach house without waking his younger brothers. They would collect shells and spread them out on a towel by category. There were spindles, cups, spoons, and worry stones. After the sort, they would choose one of each kind to keep and throw the others back to the sea. In bad times, they would throw them with force. In good times, they would gently toss them or try and skip them across the waves.

He had never talked with Sherry about how he had taken his mother back to the beach one last time when the diagnosis went from bad to terminal and held her against the chill air like she was the child in his arms.

He didn’t want to push. And she never asked.

He’d always had the sense with Sherry that you don’t push her. She seemed tractable enough, a people pleaser, a go with the flow girl. But as soon as she felt forced to do anything, she could dig in her heels so hard that nothing could move her. It was one of their main causes of argument. The fact that he got this and knew when to back off was probably what had kept any of those arguments from escalating into something worse. He’d become a master of laying hints and dropping suggestions, gently manipulating her in the direction he wanted her to go. It was like sculpture. More delicate than it seems. If you force it, it’ll crack and break into pieces.

Sometimes he hated that he was good at it, that he could manipulate her. It made him feel dirty or mean. Like he was running an experiment. Other times, he thought it was just being a good husband, knowing how to handle the woman he loved, helping her the way she needed to be helped.

Still maybe he should’ve pushed. It would’ve meant a lot to him to share a beach morning with her. Had he ever really told he that? Did she even know that he wished she would go with him? There was a part of his soul that only came out early in the morning watching the sun come up on a lonely beach. He’d always imagined that, when he married, he and his wife would share everything. But here was an entire part of his life, the quiet pensive side. And she knew nothing of it.

There was something so soothing in a morning beach. Usually, there were no people, or very few. Anyone who was there wanted to be alone, too, and would smile or wave and move on. The sound of the surf was a glorious noise, tugging at the dark places in his mind and washing the ugliness out to sea. It would wash back up later, the trouble, but it would be smoothed out and bleached white. Somehow, he always left the beach feeling like he could handle it again. It was a kind of alchemy. You couldn’t analyze it. You couldn’t force it. It just was.

That’s why they were here. He said it was for Sherry, a little vacation, a chance to reconnect. But really, it was for him. He needed to think. He needed to understand. He needed to make a plan. And he had no idea what it would be.

Kirk was not a man who struggled to make decisions. He often said that the secret of his success was just a willingness to make a decision and see it through. At work, it was okay if his decision turned out to be wrong. At worst, they wasted some hours working down the wrong avenue or doing research that ended up not applying. But this was different. He had to look at all the ramifications. He had to be sure he was doing the right thing. If he left. If he stayed.

It had been two months since, since the incident. That’s what he had started to call it in his mind, anyway, an innocuous, nonjudgmental word, not a bit like “kidnapping” or “psychotic break.” It’s what he would call it if he ever spoke it aloud—The Incident.

It was November now. Pretty soon they were going to have to start the whole holiday machine. Kirk wasn’t sure he had it in him this year. He still felt sideswiped, wounded, empty, betrayed. So angry. He knew these feelings. This was grief. This was what it had felt like when he lost his mother.

But what had he lost? The baby that wasn’t a baby? That hurt. But he didn’t think it was at the heart of his grief. After all, he hadn’t even known about the baby until it was gone. Hadn’t opened his heart to him or her, hadn’t made plans for a person he hadn’t even known was formed.

Kirk got up. He was cold. He needed to walk. He hadn’t even known. That was the crux of it, wasn’t it? Sherry hadn’t told him anything. In all their months, hell, years, of struggling to make a baby together, she had never let him in the room with her when she took the test. He’d never been there for the moment of truth. She’d done her grieving alone and left him to do his own.

And, when she had reason for hope, she’d done that alone, too. She’d told him it had been six weeks. For six weeks, she walked around with a light inside her, a glow called hope. And she hadn’t shared it with him.

Kirk found he was throwing shells and stones into the sea. He stopped and looked down at the shell in his hand. It was a flat one, a shard that had been worn smooth by the sea. He rubbed his thumb along it. A worry stone. He put it in his pocket. It was going to take a lot of worry stones to rub this one out.

What hope did they have? He thought he loved her. He thought she loved him. But what hope did they have if they didn’t share the hope or the grief? Were they really only fair weather friends, after all this? Did she really have his back? Did he really have hers?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flash Fiction #4: February with a Twist

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind. Thanks for reading!
no words 
Image courtesy of Growinnc via an attribution license on Flickr Creative Commons (Attribution Link)

Elaine walked into the shop with a purposeful stride. It looked like one of those little curio shops common on beach-town streets. She expected to find balls made of colorful blown glass, fish-themed art by a local artist, tin signs with sayings that seem clever if you've never seen them before. Usually, these shops were a good place to pick up a "I thought of you on my vacation" present for her mother, a tee shirt or a mug with the name of the town and some flowers maybe. The Georgia O'Keeffe quote on the door made her hope the shop might swing more towards arty than kitschy. 

Elaine was two full strides into the shop before she looked up and saw the young woman seated on a platform. She was sitting on a stool, with her ankles primly crossed. This struck Elaine as strange, given that she was otherwise nude. The woman waved and smiled.

"The door, darlin.'" 

Elaine jumped. "What?"

"The door. Maggie's getting chilled. Close the door and come inside." Elaine obeyed, then peered into the darker recesses of the shop in search of the voice. There was waft of smoke from behind the counter. Maggie didn't know whether to walk out or ask for a light. It had been more than a decade since she'd someone smoking in a public place. She hesitated in the doorway.

"Do you draw?" The voice was scratchy, dark, more suggestive of bars and backrooms than of art shops or tourist-bilking. Something in the voice made her feel warm.

"Not for years," Elaine admitted, surprised at the wistfulness in her tone. "I was just looking for a gift, for my mother, before I have to go back home."

The woman stood, pushing a sketch pad across the counter with work-worn hands in fingerless gloves. "You know, a mother always likes to get something her children have made."

Elaine brushed her fingers across the pad, then looked back at the model, now curved around herself in a pose reminiscent of a Degas painting. "Do you have an extra pencil?"

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Flash Fiction #3: February with a Twist

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind. Thanks for reading!
happy kids 
Image courtesy of Life in Pictures via Flickr Creative Commons (attribution link)

That's her, there in the bottom right. Yeah, the little one. I know. Cute, huh? Funny to think about now, I mean, after what's happened. 

She had the entire staff wrapped around her tiny little fingers.  A good number of the students, too. I mean, usually kids know. They have a sort of vibe for these things. They feel the undercurrents and hear the false notes that slide right under the radar of adults. But she was good. Smooth. Most people never suspected. Heck, I didn't suspect until it was too late.

Yeah, that's me, right down in front clowning with my best friend. That's when I still had both arms. Probably one of the last days that I had two arms, actually.When was this taken? May? Jeez. It might just have been days after this picture. It happened at the May picnic.

I don't know why she hated me. I can't remember any particular incident. I didn't best her at anything. We hardly spoke. I didn't pick on her. I didn't break her heart or beat up her brother or kick her dog or even cheat off of her homework.

I knew she hated me though. It was this palpable thing. Her breathing changed if I came into her view, growing louder, like she had to force the breath through her nose. Her eyes seemed like burning coals. It was creepy.

Still, when she came up behind me on the playground after the last kid had gone and stood there watching me swing, it didn't occur to me that I was in danger. I turned my head to look at her and the rock came down on my head. They found me hours later, dangling from the swingset by one arm tangled in the chains of the swing. They did what they could for me, but, that was the end of my career as a violinist. 

No, I don't play the violin, you dolt. It was a joke.

So, am I surprised to hear about the incidents? What do you think?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Flash Fiction With a Twist #2

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  These pieces are supposed to feature a twist of some kind. Thanks for reading!

Image courtesy of Lisa Quinn2 on Flickr Creative Commons (attribution link)

With Any Luck

She staged the scene so carefully. She wasn't very good at this really, but she wanted to try to make something nice, hoping for a bit of luck. One red rose lying on the table, champagne icing in the snowbank just outside the door, soft sultry music playing low enough that they'd be able to talk. Her dress wasn't new, but it still looked new and he'd never seen her wear it before. It was soft and feminine. It fit her well, emphasizing the smallness of her waist compared to the fullness of her hips. She felt pretty. It was about as perfect as she could afford.

If he had only come to the door with a paper heart-shaped box of chocolates and a smile, it might have ended differently. She didn't really think it would have been happily ever after, but it might have been a very nice evening. There could have been kisses and that happy breathless feeling and resistance overcome without too much struggle. He'd have gotten lucky. There could have been laughter over small buttons. Some good times to remember later, when things turned bad.

Of course, he'd arrived drunk and laughed at her not-really-champagne in its golden paper. Just her luck. He'd smelled of smoke and sweat and something greasy. His shirt was stained. The good looking ones were always so awful. He said she looked like a Sunday school teacher in her dress.

With any luck, when the ambulance arrived, she could sell the story of his sliding in a wet spot on the floor and hitting his head on the coffee table. With any luck, no one would notice that the dent in his head matched the bottom of the bottle she was drinking from now.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

February with a Twist: A New Flash Fiction Project

Image courtesy of gordon.milligan on Flickr Creative Commons (attribution link) 

This week, I'm participating in "February with a Twist" a project +Becket Moorby has organized through the +Flash Fiction Project on Google+.  The last round was fun for me and got me writing. I'm hoping to get over a hump in my current novel by letting my brain splash about in other pieces this week. Thanks for reading!


He loved to watch her, running in the sunshine. Her favorite golden yellow jacket shown like the rays of light originated in her instead of the clear autumn sky. He was keeping a watchful eye, like any good father would, but giving her some space to run, to feel free. Her arms spread wide as she ran like she wanted to hug the entire park. She was beautiful. His heart felt full to exploding with the beauty of her.

She spotted him on the bridge and smiled shyly, covering her mouth with her hands. He waved with just his fingertips. One more quick look around. No one was looking their way.

He grabbed her up with one arm, clamping his other hand over her sweet little mouth. He turned on his heel and walked towards his van as quickly as he could without looking suspicious, carefully not turning back when he heard her father call out, the panic rising in his voice with each repetition. "Kara? Kara? Kara?"

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Milestones Are Heavy in a Mother's Heart

It's been a month of big steps for my daughters. The oldest turned thirteen. It's official now, that "teen" at the end of her number. The youngest lost her first baby tooth.  Milestones all around. They're both happy and excited, as they should be. It's me who has issues. I'm so not ready for this.

I didn't want them to stay babies. I'm proud of the way they are growing and know that they will be fabulous and successful women someday. But, especially for my oldest, who just turned thirteen, but looks sixteen, it's starting to feel like every step she takes is a step closer to stepping out on her own. She's going to be great. She's already amazing and she's only going to get more amazing.

Maybe I should've done something to stunt her growth.

Starting out, thirteen years ago, in the parenting racket, eighteen years sounded like a very long time. Certainly long enough to impart what little I know about the world and give my daughters the leg-up they'll need to make it. "It goes fast," a friend with grown children told me. "Savor this time when they are small," another advised. 

I shook it off, of course, as the young always do those with more experience. I've always hated it when people told me "You'll understand when you're older" or any version of that advice.  When parents would tell me that I would understand someday when I was a parent, I regarded it as shortcoming on their part. They lacked the articulation to explain. Or they underestimated my ability to understand.

Of course, they were right. No matter how articulate a person is when they explain, or how insightful and intelligent the listener, you have to walk this walk to understand it.

All this angst over my girls is definitely out of left field. I myself am a very "in the moment" kind of girl. When high school friends on the socials go on about stuff that happened twenty and more years ago, I'm always amazed at the detail they remember. Once I've already lived it, I move on, for the most part, looking for the next leg of this adventure.   I'm the same as a parent. I don't spend hours waxing nostalgic over diapers and ankle chubs. I enjoy my girls for who they are right now and look forward to who they will become. 

Maybe this is why they are called milestones. For the weight of them.