Rebirth

Agnes rubbed at her swollen left wrist and closed her eyes, as if to shutter out the throbbing.
“What’s wrong, Grandma?” A wide-eyed boy, no more than seven, stood before her, his tiny hands resting on the worn blue arm of the chair in which his grandmother sat.
“Fetch me my heating pad, David. I got a pain birthing in my wrist.”
David ran to his grandmother’s bedroom and retrieved the pad. This he plugged in, and arranged over his grandmother’s wrist.
“Not too hot, child.”
David nodded and pushed the yellow button–warm–which made a satisfactory click in response.
“Oh, that’s better, David,” Agnes said, after a few moments had passed. “You’re a good boy.”
The words filled David with sudden warmth and pride. He smiled.
Agnes opened her eyes and patted her lap. “Come on up, David,” she said. “I got me some scarecrow legs for sure, but you don’t weigh but a minute.” She laughed. “Why I bet that book we’re reading weighs more’n you.”
He climbed into her lap and stroked her cheek with feathery fingers. “Grandma?”
“Hmmm?”
“You reckon that heating pad will help me?”
Agnes frowned. “You got you a hurt somewhere?”
David blinked and pointed to his chest.
“Oh, David,” Agnes said. “There’s two types of pain. There’s a pain of the body, like this here wrist. Then there’s a deeper pain: a pain of the heart. Ain’t no pills nor no heating pad gonna’ take away that pain.”
“We both have a pain of the heart.”
“Yes, David. We do.”
“What takes it away?”
“Only time, child. Time and lots of love.” They sat in silence for a time, each of them lost in the memory of that awful night when David’s parents were killed. Agnes barely had time to mourn her daughter before she began to fight for custody of David.” She closed her eyes again. Lord, help me to raise this child up proper. Every day was full of doubt. What am I going to do? I ain’t got but a first grade education.She’d fought hard for the child, lying to Social Services, getting the neighbor lady, the one with the lawering daughter, to fix up the documents right: High school diploma. A year of community college. The rest–good citizen, a regular churchgoer, model employee–all that, Agnes was proud to say, was true.
“Pain lets us know we alive David. Reminds us to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, like a chocolate ice cream cone.”
“Ice cream doesn’t last long, Grandma.”
“No it don’t, David. But neither will the pain.”
He turned to look at her. “You know what, Grandma? You’re pretty smart.”
Agnes beamed. “Why, thank you, David.” She flexed her wrist experimentally. “I believe I’m feeling better now.” She reached for the book on the cocktail table and handed it to her grandson. “Where did we leave off?”
“Chapter Four.” David opened to the bookmark he’d fashioned from construction paper and buttons from Agnes’s sewing box.
She took the book, wrapped an arm around her grandson and pretended to read the words that swam before her eyes, making up the story as she went along, relying upon the pictures to fashion her story.
And David, following the words on the pages, pretended he could not read, so as to enjoy the tale his grandmother wove.
“Some day, you gonna’ read to me, child.”
“Some day.” And David nodded and snuggled up closer to his grandmother.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Cheney at http://hellocheney.blogspot.comgave me this prompt: Write about the birth of something.
I gave SAM at http://frommywriteside.wordpress.comthis prompt: Write the blurb for your current WIP.

 

Cracked Pavement

Carolyn double knots the laces on her running shoes and steps from her apartment building.
“Morning, Caroline.” Harold sits on his front stoop in his pajamas, smoking.
She sits beside him, waves away the offer of a cigarette.
“Just six o’clock and the parking lot is almost empty. Where these people got to go so early? Work’ll still be there waiting for them at nine.” His laugh, an easy rich baritone, never fails to make Carolyn smile. “What do you make a’ that bike there?” He gestures to the dumpster with his cigarette and the length of ash falls to the stairs.
She squints. “Indeterminate color. Rusted in spots. Flat tire.”
“Think I can fix it up?”
“I know you can, Harold.” She stands and brushes the dirt from her sweatpants. “See you soon.”
“You be careful crossing that street. It’s dangerous.”
She smiles. “You say that every day.”
“And every day I mean it.”
For Harold’s benefit, she takes her time looking before crossing Edgewood and heading down the path, six miles of asphalt running mainly parallel with the street. White clover surrounds the path in a carpet of white. Tall spikes of buckthorn plantain wave in the wind created by the passing cars.
Four miles in, the path dips into the Great Oaks apartment complex and ventures into the woods.
Her cell rings. Trish.
“Rise and shine!” Trish singsongs, the way she did when they were college roommates.
“I’m awake,” Caroline says.
“I have news,” Trish says, an edge of excitement in her voice.
Caroline steels herself.
“I got the promotion!”
“Congratulations!” Caroline enthuses.
“Europe, to start,” Trish says. “Six weeks. Then Asia. We’re going to saturate the market. By the time I’m through, we’ll be in every major country of the world.”
Caroline nods and continues on the path, walking now. She passes sweet gum trees and black locust. Wild raspberries and ancient pines. Honeysuckle growing among maples. She half-listens as Trish prattles on about jet lag and currency exchange rates and the stock market. A bridge crosses a small stream and here she pauses, studying the brown foam swirling around a bag of garbage caught up on the rocks.
“Caroline?”
“That sounds terrific.”
“I asked how things were with you.”
“Oh.” She glances around for something to satisfy Trish. “Do you remember Indian gum?”
Silence.
Caroline squirms. Waits.
“You need a job, Caroline.”
“I have a job.”
“A job that gives you more money. A job with a future. It’s time to move forward. I can get you an interview at my firm.”
“I’m happy where I am.”
“No you’re not.”
“Look…I’m in the middle of my run.”

“No you’re not. You’re lying in bed.”
Caroline can’t bring herself to hang up on Trish. She stuffs the phone back into her pocket and heads home, sprinting this time, each step a confirmation of what Trish had always told her. She’s lazy. She has her head in the clouds. She’ll never amount to anything.
Harold is still outside when Caroline returns from her run, frowning at the bicycle before him on the sidewalk.
“You talked to that gal again, didn’t you?”
“What? Who?”
“You always get that look on your face after you talk to Trish.”
Caroline sighs and sits.
“You see that?” Harold points to a crack in the asphalt.
Caroline nods.
“All them cracks in the pavement are the expectations of others. You let yourself fall into one a’ them and you gonna’ lose yourself for sure.” Harold smiles. “Ain’t worth losing yourself over someone else’s needs, honey.” He takes Caroline’s hand. “Come with me,” he says, and leads her to another crack in the middle of the lot. “What you see there?”
She studies the circular pile of dirt bleeding across the cracks. “An anthill?”
Harold shakes his head. “That ain’t a anthill, Caroline. That’s the remains of another soul who lost herself in the cracks.” And he smiles and steps over the crack to head back to his stoop.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Grace O’Malley at http://www.librivore.com gave me this prompt: “Maybe I should just leave that on you, huh?”

I gave Anna N. Mouse at http://annanmouse.blogspot.com/ this prompt: You meet an old friend at the farmers’ market. What is in his/her basket? What does it mean?


Under Cover

Jennifer Pratt unwraps the cellophane on her pack of Kents and neatly tears open the foil beneath before thumbing the lighter in.
The stranger beside her laughs. “Thought I was the only one to have a car old enough to have one of those.”
The lighter pops. Jennifer pulls it out; holds the glowing coils to the cigarette grasped between her lips. She inhales deeply, sucks down greedily. “Want one?”
The stranger waves a hand away. “Can’t. Pregnant again.”
Jennifer looks at her. “Are congratulations in order?”
“Unexpected, both of them. This wasn’t the way I’d planned for life to go.”

“Plans usually work that way.” Jennifer half-turns in her seat to look at the stranger full on. Who is this woman beside her? Jennifer craves her story the way she craves nicotine and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Only her story will give the woman body; expanding her form into bones and flesh and sinew; giving her a shape, concrete and firm. Jennifer holds the cigarette to her mouth. Inhales again.
“Why did you help me?”
Jennifer closes her eyes, re-imagines the scene that took place twenty minutes ago. The stranger’s kid had been screaming bloody murder: great tears and snot rolling down her face onto the woman’s shirt. I ran out of gas. Can you help me? The stranger had asked three times. Each time, she was denied.
Jennifer had felt humiliated for the woman. She’d just wanted it to end. Now, she shrugs. “I’m responsible.” The words are a burden and a curse and the truth of her life. She has borne them for too many years. “Has she fallen asleep?”
They had driven around for twenty minutes, Jennifer finally pulling into a fast food parking lot to have a smoke. Again she inhales and she can hear the cigarette burning the paper.
The stranger turns and looks into the back seat. “Yes, thank God. But I don’t want to go home, not just yet.”
“I’m in no hurry.”
“My husband will be furious.”
“People run out of gas all the time.”
He only gives me twenty dollars a week for the car.”
“That’s barely five gallons.”
“I know.” The stranger stares out the windshield. “Sometimes the only thing that will get the baby to sleep is a car ride.”
Jennifer switches off the radio, cracks a window. “Sorry the car smells funny. Actually, I smell funny.”
The woman sniffs. “I’m smelled worse.”
“Cod fish. My sister loves it.” Jennifer hates it. Hates the way the odor of the cooking flesh wraps itself in rising steam, entering her clothes like the perfume of a lover. Her clothes–her hair–will smell for days. She taps the ash out the window. “When I was eight years, I held a match to my face, waiting to burn.”
The woman flinches. “Why?”
“To see if I would burn.” She stabs out the cigarette in the ash tray; immediately lights another. Her cell phone rings. “My sister,” Jennifer says. “Listen.” She puts the phone on speaker. “Hello?”
The car fills with an angry voice, accusing and bitter. “You’re smoking aren’t you?”
The stranger lifts her eyebrows.
“I went for ice cream.”
“Didn’t get me any, did you?”
“You said you were dieting.”
“When are you coming?”
“Soon.”
“Are you driving? You know you’re not supposed to drive and talk on your phone.”
The stranger smiles.
“No. I’m parked.”
“Are you with a man? Do you have a man in your car?”
“No, Jodi. There is no man in my car. Unfortunately. Be home soon.” She clicks off.
“Yipe,” the stranger says.
“Try living with her.”
The woman looks across the street. “Pep Boys. Burger King. Boston Market. Hospital. All lit up like neon sex.” She laughs. “And then the Sheraton. That’s what got me into this mess.”
“The Sheraton?”
“Sex.”
Jennifer nods. “That’s what got me into trouble too.”
“You have kids?”
“No. A twin. Jodi.” She sighs. “Look at the lights.” Jennifer points to the hotel. “All those people inside there, with no idea we’re watching.”
“Top floor no lights,” the stranger says.
“Next floor, two lights, side by side,” Jennifer adds.
“One floor down, one light on all the way at the far end of the building.”
“A floor below that, one light one all the way on the other side,” Jennifer says. “Funny, the patterns we make.”
“Look.” The stranger points at a car waiting at the traffic light. “Turn signal flashing. Getting nowhere.”
Jennifer nods.
“What’s your name?” The woman asks suddenly.
“Jennifer Pratt.”
“Jenn?”
“No.” She’s always insisted upon being called by her full name. “Jenn Pratt sounds choppy, like a piece of wood split across your knee.”
The woman laughs.
“I always told myself I’d marry a multi-syllable man. Two at least, but three would be better.”
“Is there anyone?”
“No.” She exhales great curls of smoke through her nose. “Never will be.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I’ve got my sister to take care of.”
“Can’t she take care of herself?”
“She was born with two club feet.”
“That’s curable.”
“Not when your father believes in the devil.”
“What do you mean?”
“When my father first laid eyes on Jody, born one hour and three minutes before me, he shook his head. Told my mother Jody was the spawn of the devil.”
The woman snorted. “That’s cloven feet, not club feet.”
“I know. My father was religious but not educated. He didn’t wait around to see if I was of the devil. I never met him.”
“Probably for the best,” the woman said.
“My mother laid the blame on me.”
“How?”
“By positioning myself higher in the womb, by squishing my sister, I, according to my mother, had damaged my sister’s legs. Therefore, I had driven away my father and ruined our lives. My mother refused to have my sister’s legs operated on. Said I needed to be reminded of my sin.”
“Ouch.”
“You never told me yourname,” Jennifer says.
“Marguerita Fernandez.”
“A good, long name,” Jennifer says.
“My husband hates it, that I didn’t take his name.”
“He’ll get over it.”
“Did your mother get over your sister’s legs?” Marguerita asks the darkness.
“No. She died when she was thirty-eight. I was eighteen.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” Jennifer rolls up the window: It’s started to drizzle. “On her deathbed, my mother told me Jodi was my responsibility now. Utterly and completely my responsibility. Sometimes I think my mother wanted to send herself to an early grave, just to avoid the responsibility of Jodi.”
“Is that what you’re doing?” Marguerita nods at the glowing cigarette.
“I turned down two marriage proposals and a job transfer because Jodi refused to go. I can’t get a dog because Jodi doesn’t want one. When I want a cigarette I have to sneak out of my own house, paid for with my own money, because Jodi doesn’t like the smell. Well, Jodi, I have something to say to you,” Jennifer yells, shaking her fist at the window. “I hatecod fish!”
The child in the backseat stirs. Jennifer feels herself blush. “Sorry.”
Marguerita shakes her head. “Can’t she get surgery now? I’m sure…”
“You don’t understand, Marguerita. This has become the pattern of our lives. You can’t change it now.”
Marguerita is silent for a time, and Jennifer can see that she’s quite young; still in her early twenties.
“My husband beats me,” Marguerita says.
Jennifer sighs deeply. “I’m sorry. Can you…?”
“I have nobody.”
There’s a drainage pipe beneath the road leading to the restaurant. And here in the silence and the dark Jennifer she can easily imagine a dead body inside. “Shall we stuff him in the drain pipe?” Jennifer points.
Marguerita giggles. “And your sister just after him.”
They smile in the dark.
“Oh, look,” Marguerita says. “The pattern has changed.”
Jennifer looks across the street to the hotel. She smiles. “It has, hasn’t it?” Three lights are now on on the top floor. The second floor is completely in darkness. She starts the engine. “Shall I drive you home?”
“No. I think I’d like to go there.” Marguerita points. “To the hotel.”
“OK.”
Jennifer reverses, then pulls forward. She puts on her turn signal. Right.
At the entrance, she puts the car in park. “Let me help you…”
Marguerita has already lifted the sleeping baby over her shoulder. Jennifer releases the car seat from the buckle. Marguerita grabs it with her right hand. “Thank you, Jennifer Pratt.”
“Thank you, Marguerita Fernandez.”
Marguerita frowns. “For what?”
“For showing me how patterns don’t have to stay the same forever.” She gets back into the car, scribbles a number on a piece of paper. “My cell phone,” she says through the window. “Call me if you ever need anything.”
Marguerita nods and rubs her forehead. She is tired, Jennifer can tell.
“How will you pay?”
Marguerita suddenly seems to age thirty years. “I have ways.”
“Oh…Marguerita…”
Marguerita gives a weary smile. “Some patterns are not meant to be broken.” She turns and walks into the hotel.
Jennifer pulls away from the curb. Just before she reaches home, she tosses her cigarette out the window; chases it with the pack.
She pulls into the driveway and takes the front walk. In the living room, there’s a blue glow from the television screen. Jennifer pauses for a moment to watch. She creeps closer…closer until she’s standing directly in the flowerbed, so close she can hear the laughter from the television. She kneels and listens, heart beating rapidly. The rain assaults her skin with heavy droplets as she crouches in the cover of darkness looking at the naked feet of her sister propped up on the cocktail table.
She rises and goes to the door; slides the key in the lock. “I’m home.”
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, David Wiley at http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.comgave me this prompt: The rain assaulted her skin with heavy droplets as she crouched in the cover of darkness.

I gave Michael at Http://michaelwebb.us this prompt: Run away home…



Mended

“I don’t care if is door. Or a window. It’s nothing but a thin sliver of chance.” Momma perched on the edge of her green recliner, the gaps in the vinyl mended with duct tape. She was always fixing things that way, doctoring arguments and things broken with patches or kisses floated through the air upon a ring of smoke.
I pushed aside the tarp covering the cabin’s entrance and stepped into cool mountain air. The tips of the pine needles birthed fat drops of rain. The birdsong was tentative and cautionary.
“You leave me now, you ain’t never seeing me again, you hear?”
I headed down the mountain. The rain transitioned from drizzle to downpour. My mother would say it was a sign; brittle bones tossed tossed into the air and falling to the earth to arrange themselves into a pattern of significance that I chose to ignore.

I made a life for myself, a life of paper-cup coffee and croissants, buttery and light. A life without patches and the runes of my mother’s life.
I’d just cracked open my fortune cookie when my secretary walked into my office. You will receive good news today.
She handed me a thick yellow envelope and watched me tear it open.
A thin sliver of chance is like a piece of chocolate pie. All it takes is a little bit. I’m proud of you.
My mother had died three years after I’d left, fully aware of her illness. The doctors had spoken to her about chances. She’d tried to patch up her body with herbs and tinctures and incantations spoken by moonlight.
As I had looked forward to the flowering of my own life, I’d neglected the signs of my mother’s winter. I’d refused to notice the slowing of her step, the concentration in her speech, her thin and translucent skin.
Not everything can be mended with kisses and duct tape.
But perhaps brittle bones have more power to intone the future than fortune cookies.
As I’m in the process of packing too many boxes, I cheated this week and wrote to two prompts:
This was written for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge. The word was door.
And…
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, FlamingNyx at http://flamingnyx.wordpress.comgave me this prompt: You take a deep breath and the crisp air that fills your lungs makes it clear that winter is coming. Play with this: Reminisce about the summer that has passed by too fast, the autumn that never was or the imminent winter. You can take it literally or figuratively.
I gave k~ at http://bloggitwrite.blogspot.comthis prompt: The surface of all things.

Good Fortune

“Learn Chinese,” Caroline Nickleback read. “Plum:” She frowned and scratched her head. There followed an incomprehensible and unpronounceable series of letters. She studied the pronunciation guide and tried to wrap her lips around the word, spitting out a tiny crumb of fortune cookie as she did so.
Julian laughed and took a sip of his tea, running a thumb up the smooth side of the tiny white mug that was really more suited to shots than oolong.
“Lucky numbers,” she continued, “forty, forty-four, forty-one, forty-six, thirty, two.” She looked at her husband, shiny and new. “Should we buy a lottery ticket?”
He grinned. “You believe in that?”
“Nah. But my mother is a firm believe in astrology.” Caroline leaned forward. “Says we’re never going to last.”

“How so?” Julian tilted his head.
“Aries and Leo.” She laughed. “Not compatible.”
“Is that why she didn’t come to the wedding?”
“She said she didn’t want to waste time on a losing proposition.” Caroline felt her eyes fill with tears. “Anyway…” She flipped over the thin strip of white paper in her hand and read her fortune silently, moving her lips as she did so. She frowned.
“What does it say?”
When it is not necessary to make a decision,” she read, aloud this time, “it is necessary not to make a decision.”
“Dumb,” Julian pronounced.
Caroline balled up the fortune and set it on her plate. “What does yours say?”
Julian broke his cookie in two and withdrew the slip. “You will lose $8.99 today. Six ninety-nine if you chose the buffet.
“Gimmie that.” Caroline reached across the table and grabbed Julian’s fortune, cookie and wrapper. These she jammed into her purse along with her own uneaten cookie as well as several packets of soy and duck sauce and three packets of tea. “Excuse me.” Caroline waved at a passing waitress.
“Yes?”
“Could we get our cookies?”
The waitress frowned. “But…”
“And about six more shots of tea.”
Julian snickered.
“I don’t understand…”
Caroline glanced at her watch. “And make it snappy. We have to get back to the office. My boss is a tyrant.”
The waitress nodded and hurried away.
Julian grinned. “I am not a tyrant.”
“Sometimes you can be.”
The waitress returned with a small circular tray lined in cork. She set down six mugs of tea and two fortune cookies. “Will there be anything else?”
“No. That’ll be all. Thank you.”
Julian raised an eyebrow at Caroline. “You pick first.”
Caroline considered the two cookies before her before reaching for one and tearing open the plastic with her teeth. She took a mug of tea and drank it in one gulp before clearing her throat dramatically and reading. “You are wise beyond measure.” She flushed, pleased. “That’s more like it.”
Julian reached for the remaining cookie. “You are important enough to ask and you are blessed enough to receive back.” He smiled. “Maybe there is some truth to this stuff.” He took his new wife’s hand. “I’m glad I asked you to marry me, Caroline. Even if your mother thinks we’re doomed.”
“And I was wise to accept, Julian.”
They smiled at each other across the table, holding hands and celebrating their good fortune to have met and married.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Michael at http://michaelwebb.us gave me this prompt: “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.” -Herman Melville

I gave Cheryl at http://burningfireshutinmybones.wordpress.com/ this prompt: Life is like chocolate.

Adventure

Dani runs her hand against the grain of the old dining room table she inherited from her grandmother, a table that has shrunk progressively every year as she and Cecil removed leaves and pushed the ends together. Years ago, it had been the opposite: As the children were born they’d wrestled the old table open, each of them tugging at either side until there was a gap sufficient to accommodate first one leaf, then two, then, finally, three.
Dani sighs deeply. Cecil doesn’t appear to notice: He’s reading the newspaper, breathing heavily through his mouth, his elbows holding down the corners of the paper so that the fan blowing hot air behind him doesn’t rustle the pages. Cecil’s elbows perpetually hold two triangles of smudged ink. Yesterday, the number twenty-seven was inked on Cecil’s left elbow. All that day, as she waxed a spotless floor and wiped down counters already clean, she thought on that number. As she tried to assign meaning to a random number stamped on her husband’s elbow, she realized something. “I’m bored, Cecil,” she says now.
“Hmmmmm?”
“This house is too quiet. And I’m sick to death of reading the headlines off your elbows.”
Cecil frowns and lifts his elbow to examine it. “Don’t get all fuzzled up, Dani. It’s not good for your heart.”
“I can’t stand it. Sitting here doing nothing at all. I need…I need kids in my life again.”
Cecil folds the newspaper neatly then roots in his back pocket and produces his handkerchief, neatly folded and pressed. This he dips into his coffee before rubbing it against his elbows one at a time.
“What’s this about, Dani?”
“David called. Leesa wants her parents to take the kids for both weeks.”
“I thought we were splitting…”
“Leesa thinks that would be traumatic for the kids to have to move midway through.”
“Traumatic how?” Cecil laughs. “We live twenty minutes apart.”
“I don’t know,” Dani says. “Traumatic is living with Leesa’s parents for fourteen days.”
“Why can’t they just come here for the entire time?”
Dani makes a face. “You know Leesa.”
Cecil nods. “I do.” He reaches across the table and takes his wife’s hands. “Maybe it’s time for an adventure.”
“Adventure, how?”
“Let’s go on a cruise. Then, if we like it, we’ll sell this old house and buy ourselves a little boat. We’ll travel the world, Dani.”

She laughs. “I’ve never seen you this excited, Cecil.”
“I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.”
“Let Leesa’s parents have the kids as long as they want.”
“I don’t know, Cecil.”
“Think on it, Dani. We’ll be the cool grandparents. The ones who live on a boat.”
Dani ponders this for a moment. “I wouldn’t even know how to get started…”
“I already bought tickets. Again he reaches into a back pocket, producing this time an envelope. We leave on the twenty-seventh.”
Dani smiles and rubs her hand across the grain of the table once more.

For the Scriptic.org prompt this week, I gave Michael this prompt: “What would you give up.” The prompt I received was “She felt disappointed that she had not been chosen.” Michael: What would you give up?

Center Stage

Jackson opened the closet door, switched on the light and looked around. He loosened his tie and slid it from his neck. “Where did we go?” He stood there, not sure of where to hang his tie, now that everything had changed.
“I’m not sure,” Kathy said, taking the tie and folding in half then half again. She slid open the top drawer of a massive dresser that hadn’t been there that morning, when the two of them had kissed each other goodbye and left in separate cars for work. “Ties go here now, I guess.”
Jackson peeked inside the drawer. His ties were rolled and lined up in a neat five-by-five matrix.

Kathy unfolded the tie and rolled it like the others before tucking it into the drawer, making a new column. “It looks funny there all alone.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Jackson pushed the drawer closed. One by one, he opened his new drawers and looked inside. Socks arranged by color. Boxers and tee-shirts, neatly folded.
“Did they iron those?” Kathy pointed.
“Looks like it, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t expect me to iron your undies from now on.”
“Relax, Kath. This isn’t us.” Jackson continued to another drawer. Two pairs of jeans.
“Where’s the pair from college?”
“Holes in the knees,” he said. “They must have packed them away.”
The next drawer held Jackson’s three sweaters. The drawer to its right contained two sweatshirts and a pair of shorts.
He opened the final two drawers. Empty. “Plywood and particle board,” Jackson said, pointing. “What a bunch of crap.”
Kathy laughed and sat on the white comforter adorning the king-sized sleigh bed. She picked up one of the five massive pillows and launched it at her husband. “I hate these pillows. I mean…What if someone drooled on them?”
Jackson made a face.
“It’s like we’re in a hotel room. Only…”
“Hotel rooms don’t have your wardrobe. Aren’t you going to look inside your dresser?”
“No.” Kathy shook her head. “It’s too depressing.” She flopped onto her stomach and looked beneath the bed. “Even the dust bunnies are gone.”
“Our bedroom has never been this neat,” Jackson said. “Our house has never been this neat. What’s happened to us, Kathy?”
“We’ve been staged, Jackson.” Together they walked to the basement where they found their bedroom furniture, scratched and dented and bruised. But still. It was theirs. Hard rock maple. Inherited from Kathy’s grandparents. Solid through and through. “See you soon, old friend,” Jackson said, running a finger across a ring on the top of his dresser.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Anna at www.thebakingbarrister.com gave me this prompt: My bedroom has never been THIS messy before. I took the opposite route and went with “…this neat.” This piece is in reference to the fairly new idea of staging a house before it goes on the market. It involves removing many personal items, possibly renting more tastefulfurniture, and making all manner of updates. It’s a pain. And I found myself wondering, during the process, where my family went, after the pictures, books, curtains and various pieces of furniture were removed. Obviously, this was exaggerated: No one actually ironed boxer shorts or loaded up the dressers for us.
I gave Steph at http://peopledothingswiththeirlives.com this prompt: He wore his successes like three Olympic medals.

Inconsistencies

Evangeline Witherspoon removes one of the lipsticks from the plastic dollar store bag and uses her fingernail to work off the wrapping. She twists the base, watches the lipstick emerge, pretty and unblemished and new, a perfect forty-five degree angle of pure color. She stretches out her lower lip with her bottom teeth and rubs the lipstick back and forth before pressing her lips together. She studies herself intently in the bathroom mirror. Too pink, she decides, wiping off the lipstick with her lavender-scented handkerchief. She takes another from the bag and repeats the process. Too orange. Another. Taupe.
“What are you doing, Mother?” Her daughter Edna limps into the bathroom and squints at her “Why are your lips two different colors?”
Evangeline glances at herself in the mirror. Her top lip is orange. Her bottom lip taupe. She sighs. Edna, she is sure, is convinced that Evangeline is slipping. This lipstick incident won’t help. Evangeline wipes her lips clean.

After Edna broke her hip in that car accident a few months back, Evangeline asked her daughter to move in with her. It would be neat, she’d thought, to care for her daughter once again. She envisioned cooking up great kettles of chicken noodle soup. Staying up late in pajamas watching movies on that webby thing that Al Gore invented before he went all environmental. Talking over coffee and buttery croissants.
Evangeline had thought they’d go back to the way things were years and years ago.She hadn’t expected Edna to turn into a vegan. Hadn’t expected Edna to fall in love with Dirk Dimkowitz across the street. She hadn’t expected Edna to quit her job and make this move a thing of permanence.
“How is your hip feeling today, honey?”
“Getting better every day.” She smiles. “Dirk’s helping me with my therapy now.”
Evangeline nods. She was supposed to be the one helping her daughter. Not Dirk. “I’m glad you found someone. After Brian died…Well, I was just so worried about you. Out there in California all by yourself, with nobody to take care of you.”
“You sweet on someone, Mom?”
“Maybe.” Evangeline wipes her lips again and tries the fourth tube. Red. She considers. Bright, but not garish.
“I like that one.” Edna shuts the lid on toilet, and with her cane, lowers herself on the fuzzy pink seat. “So who is he?”
“Oh, nobody.” Evangeline can feel herself blush. Living with Edna wasn’t what Evangeline had expected. Edna going out at all hours of the day: Dinners, shopping, theatre trips and museum visits. Evangeline is..Well, truth be told, Evangeline is jealous of her daughter.
“Phillip Feizer?” Edna raises her eyebrows.
“That old prune face?” Evangeline says, then glances at her reflection. She presses her fingertips against the mirror, traces the wrinkles in the glass. When did she get so old? “Not Phillip.”
She applies a bit of blusher to her cheeks. Just a touch, mind you. Not like the way Deidre Jacoby puts it on. The woman looks as if she suffers from a permanent and incurable case of Fifth Disease. Eye shadow? No. She decides. She’s grown beyond eye shadow.
“Henri?”
“No. Not Henry,” Evangeline says, refusing to pronounce his name the French way. Every since Henry Smith took that genealogy class and discovered he was one-sixteenth French, he’s insisted upon the new pronunciation. “Man enrolled in a French conversation class at the community college.”
“Word is he’s failing it,” Edna says, laughing. “But he’s doing quite well in the culinary class. Might make you a nice dinner.” She hoists herself back up and stands behind her mother; begins pulling bobby pins from Evangeline’s hair. It falls around her shoulders, long and white.
“I look like a witch.”
“You look beautiful.” Edna picks up the brush from the counter and begins running it through Evangeline’s hair. “I wish I’d inherited this.”
Evangeline sighs and closes her eyes. “I remember when you used to style my hair. We’d sit for hours on the couch listening to the radio after I got dinner started. When you finished, you’d hold up the mirror and it was all I could do not to laugh.” She giggles. “Little plastic curlers hanging from one piece of hair. My bangs teased straight up. Fifteen plastic butterfly barrettes all over my head. You made me leave it in until you father got home.” She opens her eyes and sees Edna has tears in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“I always wanted it to be like this, Mom. You and me.” She places a hand on Evangeline’s shoulder. “But after I started high school…”
Evangeline smiles. “People must grow apart before they can grow together.”
“I just want to start new. Go back to the beginning.”
Evangeline shakes her head. “Relationships aren’t like lipsticks, Edna.”
Her daughter frowns. “What do you mean?”
“You can’t peel back the cover and unwrap them anew. And you can’t expect perfection. You just pick up in the middle and move forward as best you can.”
Edna nods and dabs at her eyes. “So who is it?”
“Well, if you must know, it’s Frank DiFazio.”
“The doofus?”
“Frank is not a doofus, Edna, any more than your man friend Dirk is.”
Edna sets the brush on the counter. “What’s wrong with Dirk?”
“What’s wrong with Frank?” Their eyes meet in the mirror. They hold each other’s gaze for a moment before Edna looks away. “You always say that Frank is …overdoingthings.”
“Well he is. But I’m willing to look past all that.”
“Why?”
“I’m lonely, Edna. Same as you were until you met up with Dirk again.”
“But…”
“Just because a person gets old doesn’t mean they’re no longer interested in life. In a relationship with somebody.”
Edna blushes. “But Frank…”
“Frank isn’t everything I wanted in a man. And he does do things that embarrass me sometimes.”
“He’s so loud, Mom.”
“That he is. But sometimes you have to decide to stop being so hard everyone and take what the world has to offer.”
Edna smiles. “You like Dirk, Mom?”
Evangeline nods. “I think he’s a fine man.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Edna picks up the brush and resumes styling her mother’s hair.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Michael at http://MichaelWebb.us gave me this prompt: “I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things.” –Mahatma Gandhi
 I gave Diane at http://silverliningwriting.com this prompt: Simmer for four hours. Perhaps longer.

Palm Sunday

Evangeline Witherstead pauses just outside St. Christopher’s Catholic Church and turns her attention to the daffodils struggling their way out of the thick layer of mulch suffocating the flowers. Evangeline scowls. Frank Difazio always applies too much mulch to the church’s flowerbeds. In fact, Frank does everything generously: Lavishly bowing at the children whenever they drop a quarter in the collection basket. Accidentally kicking over the kneeler behind him in the middle of the Consecration. Laughing too loudly at Father’s jokes, occasionally even going so far as to append a loud clap when something really tickles his funny bone. Honestly, Evangeline thinks now. The man is a doofus.
“Aren’t they beautiful, Evangeline?”
“I beg your pardon?” Evangeline turns to see Deidre Jacoby smiling inanely.

“The flowers.” Deidre points.
“Oh. Well. Yes,” Evangeline says. “Just lovely.” Truth be told, Evangeline hasn’t stopped to admire the flowers. She’s stopped to hike up her pantyhose before heading into the church. Her daughter accused her of buying cheap hose, recommended she invest in some good nylons if she didn’t want to walk around with droopy elephant legs. But Evangeline isn’t going to throw away her hard-earned money on department store nylons when the dollar store brand will do just fine.
“Shall we go in?” Deidre beams and offers her elbow which Evangeline doesn’t take: Hells bell, Deidre is just as old as Evangeline and with those tottering old sticks she calls legs, it’s a wonder Deidre hadn’t fallen and injured herself. Evangeline squints. It’s also a wonder that Deidre’s nylons can maintain a grip on those thin legs. She steps forward and into the church, hoping Deidre doesn’t notice her nylons.
Frank hands Deidre a palm, then passes one to Evangeline. She takes it and folds it over, follows Deidre to a seat near the front. The church smells of Murphy Oil Soap and hushed expectations. Evangeline rubs her hand along the pew, pleased.
“Looks good,” Deidre observes and Evangeline nods. Of course it looks good. For the past thirty-two years, Evangeline has led a group of volunteer cleaners, older women mainly, but occasionally the high school student in need of service hours. The day before Palm Sunday, they clean and buff and scrub the church new.
As it gets closer to seven-thirty, Harold and Emma Jackson stream in with their nine boys.
“Look how sweet,” Deidre says. “Each of them neat as a pin.”
Becky Fister doesn’t bother to kneel before she enters the pew, Evangeline notices. And Phillip Lewis fails to remove his sunglasses before he sits. Evangeline sighs.
“Phil looks good,” Deidre observes.
“Can’t see the man’s eyes,” Evangeline replies, pulling her rosary beads from her purse and fingering a bead.
“Do you think he’ll…”
“He’ll what?”
Deidre blushes. “Marry again?”
Evangeline crosses herself. “Rose has been dead a year and you’re already…already…” She pauses, floundering for the right words.
“Deidre’s making the moves on Phillip.”
Evangeline turns to her right. Frank is standing there laughing loudly. Smiling too broadly.
“Is this seat taken?” He gestures.
“Oh. I…”
“Scoot over, Evangeline.” Deidre has already done so, leaving a small space between them.
Evangeline sighs and moves over as well, crossing her wrinkled nylon legs beneath the pew.
Zoe Cardash sits at the piano, pulls in the bench, and punches in a number which is immediately lit up in neon in the corner of the church. Evangeline slides a missal from the back of the pew and opens it to the proper page. She clears her throat in preparation.
The cantor unscrews the lid on her plastic water bottle and takes a long pull before arranging the microphone just so. She turns towards Zoe, whose hands hover over the keyboard, looking to the back of the church, eyebrows raised. As she settles into a chord, the congregation stands.
Evangeline takes a deep breath and begins to sing. But the cantor must be nervous: She barely touches on note before charging on to the next, rushing about like she’s late for something. Evangeline frowns. Sings louder in the hopes of setting the cantor back on course. It’s no use. Evangeline can’t slow the cantor down, nor can she keep up with her. Neither can Zoe, who gamely pushes forward, leaning into the music, plowing her hands along the keyboard as fast as she can, dropping notes like stitches in order to catch up.
“I think Zoe’s broken out into a sweat,” Deidre says.
“Who is that singer?” Evangeline demands.
“Vera Loving’s daughter. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“She sings like she’s running in the Kentucky Derby.”
Frank lets loose a loud guffaw just as Father passes their pew.
Evangeline feels herself redden.
The music stops. The congregation sits. Evangeline begins thinking about her nylons. In fact, Evangeline is so wrapped up in her nylons, she misses the first and second readings. Only when they stand for the reading of the Passion does Evangeline realize she hasn’t been paying attention. Listen up, Evangeline, she tells herself. You’re starting to slip, old woman. She pinches her upper arm and reads along in the missal. When it’s the congregation’s turn to read, Frank’s voice booms. Evangeline pretends to turn down her hearing aid. Frank doesn’t appear to notice.
“…laminate Jesus,” the reader says and Evangeline stiffens. Lament!she thinks. Lament! She waits for the reader to go back; to correct himself; but he rushes forward like Zoe trying to keep up with the beautiful yet tone death Miss Loving.
Beside her, Frank is shaking with laughter. “Did you hear that?” His whisper is loud. “Laminate Jesus?”
“Hush yourself, Frank.” Evangeline fishes a lavender scented handkerchief from her purse and hands it to Frank. “Wipe your eyes.”
Frank shakes out handkerchief and mops his face, heaving laughter through lavender. On her left, Deidre starts giggling. “This is a fine mess,” Evangeline hisses. “The budget director and the groundskeeper making fools of themselves in the middle of church. Where is your decorum?”
“Yank your nylons up, Evangeline,” Deidre says and Frank takes Evangeline’s hand and gives it a squeeze. “I love you, Evangeline,” he says, smiling. “You old fuddy-duddy stick in the mud. Why don’t you and me get hitched tomorrow afternoon?”
Evangeline feels her heart thump. A warm surge courses through her veins. She tries to return her attention to the Mass but finds she cannot.
When the Gospel is finished, the congregation sits. The people arrange themselves in their pews, crossing legs, shushing children, folding palms into crosses before settling in to listen. Evangeline takes this opportunity to pull up her nylons. She glances at Frank and smiles.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Michael Webb gave me this prompt: We gain no wisdom by imposing our way on others –James Lee Burke. I gave Kirsten this prompt: Your main character is moving. Where? Why? When?

Swept

Two men. Pin stripe suits. White shirts, crisp and clean. Ties, one green, likely in favor of St. Patrick’s day. The other red, with tiny flecks of gold. Bethany walks up to their table in her too-short shirt and sets two glasses before them, neatly arranging them to fit on the circular white coasters just above the knives. The man on the left straightens his silverware, shakes his head. “I still don’t know how you did it, Bob.”
Bob gives a throaty laugh. Sips from his drink and appraises Bethany’s legs.
“Are you ready to order?”
Bob scans the menu and lifts a finger in the air. “Hang on…Don’t go anywhere.”

The lunch crowd is horrible today. Bethany just wants to go home and soak her feet in a hot bath, curl up with her book on hacking. Computers are just a bunch of numbers. And she understands numbers so much more than people. Numbers are predictable. You can count on them, they way you can’t count on a friend to ignore you or a spouse to leave you or even the man next door who’d promised to change the light switch in her kitchen last week.
Bob glances at the man across from him, wipes the palm of his right hand across the left. “I made it all disappear. First wife. Gone. She has no idea where I am.”
“Really?”
“Really.” He takes a drink and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Bank accounts cleaned out and opened under a new name. Credit card bills…” He grins. “I took my name off of those and left her with the balance. Tore my past life up in pieces and swept it under the rug.” He removes a business card from his front pocket. “I’m a new man.”
Bethany scans the card quickly. William Davidson. Attorney. She memorizes the telephone number and the business address.
The man laughs. “You’re amazing. I could learn a thing or two from you.”
“You in town for long?”
“Naw. Got to get back to Barbados tonight.” Bob/William grins. “The new wife…”
Bethany makes a point of tapping her foot on the floor. She sighs deeply. “You want me to come back later?”
“No. Uh…” Bob looks up. “What are you having Phillip?”
“Ham sandwich on rye. Chips.”
Bob nods. “Double that, sweetie.” His hand grazes Bethany’s leg as she walks past.
She sighs and heads to the kitchen, shouts out the order to Junior who gives a neat nod. “Hey, Frankie?”
Frankie looks up from the bar.
“Can you take over my tables for a few minutes?”
Frankie starts to arrange his face in a frown.
“I have the cramps,” Bethany whispers.
“Go. GO!” Frankie reddens and waves her towards the back.
In the employee break room, she logs onto her computer and brings up Google.
Twenty minutes later, Bethany finds what she’s looking for. She slides her cell from her back pocket and dials.
“Bethany?” Junior stands in the doorway. “Frankie’s getting pissed.”
“Oh, shit!” She leaps up, shuts the cover of her laptop. “Don’t tell him?”
Junior smiles. “You can trust me.”
She heads immediately to Bob/William’s table; presents the bill. “Thank you, darlin’,” he drawls.
She smiles. “Spoke with your wife just now.”
He frowns, confused. “I beg your pardon?”
“Your wife? Mary Jane Donaldson?”
He blanches.
“Yeah. You may have swept it all under the rug, but let’s just say I’m a really, really good housekeeper.” She turns away, just as the door to the restaurant opens. A woman. Two police officers.
Bethany smiles.
She clocks out early and heads home.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Sinistral Scribblings at http://www.sinistralscribblings.com gave me this prompt: Swept under the rug.

I gave Venus Moon at http://www.venusianmoon.com/ this prompt: Earl Grey tea and buttered toast.