Impossibilities

The next morning, Gerri finds her brother sitting at the breakfast table in his usual spot at the usual time.
“What’s new?” Frank asks, spreading a thin layer of butter across his toast, brown and crisp. The knife makes a satisfactory scratching sound. Frank’s dogs gather at his feet in response, sniffing the air.
“Quit my job.” Gerri pulls out a chair and flops into it, her eyes gleaming.
Frank lifts his eyebrows at this. “I hope you’re joking.”
“Nope.” She grins and breaks off a piece from Frank’s toast. It makes a loud crunching between her teeth not unlike the grinding of her teeth when her boss was being overly-demanding.
“I always eat two slices of toast in the morning, Gerri.”
She shrugs. “So?”
“So you just took some. Now I won’t get the full two slices.”

She makes a face. “So toast some more!”
“No.” He sighs and shoves his plate away. “I’m really surprised at you, Gerri.”
“It was a stinking piece of toast, Frank.”
He glances at the clock hanging over the kitchen sink. Seven o’four. “Although I shouldn’t be: Newly divorced. Kids out of the nest. You’re searching for something.”
“Already found it.” Gerri whips a map of the United States from her back pocket and slaps it on the table. “I’m going for a walk.”
“You don’t need to quit your job to take a walk.”
“You do if it’s a three thousand mile walk.”
“Three thousand miles.”
She grins and unfolds the map. Pink highlighter runs from one coast to the other.”Boston to Los Angeles.”
Frank rubs his forehead. This day is not going according to plan.
“You’ve got a crumb,” Gerri points. “Just there on your forehead.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why not?”
He studies her for a moment.
“You can’t think of a reason.” Her voice is singsong. A daring.
“Your safety,” he says. “Your health. How will you eat? Where will you sleep?”
“I’m selling everything.” She folds the map and stands. “I’ll take my time; meet as many people as I can.” She grins, puts out her hand. “Come with me.”
For a moment, he is tempted. “No.” He shakes his head.
“Why not?”
“I’ll miss my toast. I’ll miss my dogs. Besides…” He meets her eye. “You’ll never do it. It’s just not possible.”
She sighs. “Thank you Frank. I needed to hear that.”
He nods, the ever-faithful elder brother. He is glad to see his sister has come to her senses. “You’re welcome Gerri.”
Frank accompanies her to the door. “See you next week, then?”
“No.”
“Why not?” Frank glances at her. “Oh, don’t be angry, Gerri.”
“I’m not angry. I’ll be away.”
“Where you going?”
“I told you. I’m going walking.”
“But I just said…You…”
“Impossible is not a definite, Frank. It’s a dare.” She grins. “See you in California? Six months or so?”
Frank watches his sister skip down the stairs before returning to the kitchen to put on another slice of toast.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Kir at http://www.thekircorner.com gave me this prompt: Impossible is not a definite, It’s a dare.

I gave SAM at http://frommywriteside.wordpress.comthis prompt: You’re (or a character is) planning your garden. What do you plant? Why?



Main Street

At this hour of the morning, before the main of humanity has awakened from its slumber, Main Street, a product of those who sleep, is largely silent and still. The stores along Main—Irvin’s Hardware; Andee Miller’s beauty shoppe; the Laundromat—are still locked, their window shades pulled to. Even at Harvey’s Diner, the sign is flipped to Closed. But at Harvey’s the lights are on inside. A warm glow flows through the diner like a heartbeat and spills through the glass of the front door and onto the sidewalk.
Bleary-eyed waitresses bustle around inside, tying aprons around waists gone soft, setting out paper placemats, putting on pots of coffee. Deidree Hazlett suddenly pauses in her work and laughs, slack-jawed. She folds herself neatly in half and holds onto her sides.
“Ain’t nuthin’ that funny at this hour of t’day,” Winnie Jamison observes before returning to the handful of spoons she’s buffing.

“Something funny happened at Andee’s yesterday.”
“Why you still working there?”
Dee shrugs. “Easy enough commute. And the parking’s free.” She laughs. Six days a week after she clocks out of her job at Harvey’s, Deidree walks down the sidewalk to Andee’s to spend the next seven hours of her day trimming the hair of little boys while their anxious mothers look on. Dee sets hair in tight rollers. She bleaches. She dyes. She gives eyebrows their shape and listens to the heartache of others until she feels she will burst. “Timmy’s fiance came around yesterday.”
Winnie blanches. “Vera?” She sets down the spoons. “Oh, honey. I’m so sorry…”
Dee waves away the comment. “Came in wearing an old…I don’t know…a sombrero or something.” Her eyes twinkle. She walks to the window and stares out at the stars. “Live gives us so many chances,” she says. “You just have to reach out and grab one for yourself.”
“When you gonna’ do that, honey?” Winnie frowns.
“Gene says…”
“Gene’s a liar, Dee. You need to wake up to that. He ain’t never gonna go to work. Why should he, when he’s got you doing two jobs?”
“Vera got herself one of them home dye jobs. Got it off the pharmacy clearance rack for ninety-nine cents.”
“You get what you pay for,” Winnie says.
Dee laughs. “Oh she got it all right. Fused her hair together. Matted it down like Trixie Bell’s dog.”
Winnie frowns. “Trixie’s got one of them wiener dogs.”
“No. It died. She was so upset, her daddy bought her a Hungarian sheepdog.” She goes behind the counter and pulls a photograph from her purse. “See?”
“Oh my Lord. How does she keep that thing in kibble?” Winnie says, studying the picture.
“Vera’s hair was all matted down, just like that.”
Winnie nods. “She got herself into a fine tangled mess, didn’t she?”
Deidree nods and blinks.
“Why you cryin’, honey? Timmy ain’t no better than Gene is anyhow. Get both them men out of your hair and all your problems will disappear.”

“I got me a baby by Timmy, Winnie.”
“Oh, Lord.” Winnie sighs and sinks into a booth.
Deidree walks to the window watching the stars wink out, one by one. She flips the sign to open as the inhabitants of Main Street awaken and gather at the diner to prepare for yet another day.
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.com gave me this prompt: “Some men are just harder to get rid of…” This line is from the sub-title of a book by Jennifer Crusie entitled Getting Rid of Bradley in which Harvey’s Diner and a bad dye job are featured.

I gave The Baking Barrister at www.thebakingbarrister.com this prompt: tulips and daffodils in January

All Exits Are Final

“I hate the way you rattle your paper about.” Cheryl frowns.
Frank glances at her and grins as he shakes the newspaper violently.
“Stop that.”
“Are you feeling OK, Cheryl?” He takes a sip of coffee, long and over-loud.
“I hate the way you slurp your coffee. Where is your dignity?” Cheryl says. “Where is your refinement?”
Frank sets down his mug. “If I recall, dear, beneath that fancy dress, your under-drawers aren’t all that refined.”

She feels herself blanch.
“Stretched out by half a mile; elastic gone ten years now. Dingy old things,” he adds.
“Log Eye,” she hisses. “Always seeing everyone else’s faults and not your own.”
“Is this about my hair, Cheryl?”
“Of course it’s not about your stupid hair.” She glances at his head, now bald and shiny and growing the tiniest bit of stubble, like newly-mown grass, only gray not green. “Why did you shave it all off? When I sent you to that new barber, I was thinking hair growth not…” She gestures. “Not this.”
“Can’t grow grass on dead soil.” Frank grins. “The barber told me…”
She puts up a hand. “I know. I know.”
“…Took one look at that bald spot you wanted fixed and said, ‘Sorry Frank, but I think you’re permanently off the market.'” Frank laughs. “It’s liberating, actually.”
“Being bald?” She watches him peel away the paper skin from a blueberry muffin and set it on his plate. As he eats, crumbs litter the table. He licks his index finger and presses the tip against each crumb before touching it to his mouth like a Communion wafer.
Cheryl clears her throat pointedly and breaks a piece from her muffin, sticks it daintily in her mouth.
“So, dear wife, it’s OK to project an exterior of refinement but wear holey underwear, is that it? Which is worse? My slurping or your dishonesty?”
“I am not dishonest.” Cheryl slaps a hand on the table.
“These rules you insist upon…these refinements. Do they make you more human or less?”
“Or for God’s sake, why do you have to turn everything into a philosophical discussion?”
“The more we refine ourselves, the more we distance ourselves from ourselves; from our humanity. Deep down, we’re animals.”
“We’reevolved.”
“We’re devolved. We work against nature.”
“We improve it.” She watches him, licking and pressing, licking and pressing, littering the tabletop with fingerprints of spit which she will scrub away and cover with lemon furniture polish.
“What is truth, Cheryl?”
“Oh, Jesus. Keep your stupid hair, Frank. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful.”
“What is beauty?” He smiles and folds his paper. “Is beauty the truth, or is ugliness? We hide behind the rules of society. We cover ourselves from ourselves; hiding the truth from everyone, even those we love.”
“It’s too early for this, Frank.”
“I’m ready to shed the rules, Cheryl. I’m ready to find my own truths. Not yours. Not the government’s. Not the church’s. Not the advertisers’. They’re all looking for the same thing, Cheryl. They all want me to accept their truth. I want to find it for myself.” His eyes are ablaze.
“You’ve just stopped caring,” Cheryl says. “Not that you’re off the market.”
“Perhaps,” he shrugs. “Perhaps balding is an asset.”
“How can that be an asset?”
“Being invisible to others, I can finally pursue myself. My world. My truth.”
“What is your truth, Frank?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “It’ll take more than a day to figure that out. Perhaps it will occupy the rest of my life.”
“Hmmm…” Cheryl eyes herself in the toaster. “Do you think I need another Botox?”
He frowns and rises. “I’m going out for a drive.”
She hears the muted sounds of his car door closing. She hears the engine starting. “All exits are final,” she tells his empty chair.
The dog approaches Frank’s empty chair, in search of crumbs, his choke chain rattling about his neck.
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Minzy at http://minolisw.wordpress.com gave me this prompt: Eyes shut wide. I took this from the movie Eyes Wide Shut: All Exits are Final. I also took this line, reportedly said by Alice in the film: “One night, or even one lifetime, cannot reveal the truth.”

I gave Michael at http://MichaelWebb.us this prompt: Pick a four-syllable word you don’t know out of the dictionary. Write a story around that word.

Sold

“You know what will sell your house?” Mabel Pyle leaned against the Remax sign recently planted in David Hickman’s front yard. David, being a serious man, tucked his hands into his back pockets to ponder Mabel’s question. “Some new annuals,” he said, considering the flowerbeds, newly awakening. “A welcome mat.”
“No, no, no.” Mabel frowned. “That’s not it at all.”
“Paint?” David said.
“No.”
“Well, I’m not buying a new roof.” David studied his roof. It would hold. He hoped.

“What you need,” said Mabel, giving off a mysterious smile, “is St. Joseph, patron saint of people selling their homes. Or maybe it’s realtors.” Mabel put a finger to the top of her nose and pushed gently, as if the main of her thinking took place there and needed to be squeezed into service. “But no matter. St. Joseph will get the job done.”
“I just don’t go for that…”
Mabel gestured to her own garden. “Look at St. Frances there.”
David looked. An overabundance of birds were gathered around the statue in Mabel’s garden.
David scowled. Those birds pooped all over everything.
“I don’t understand how it works.” Perhaps it was the birdseed Mabel secreted in her garden before sunup every morning: While Mabel believed in miracles, she also believed in helping them along a bit. “Shall I get Joseph, then?”

David shook his head. “I don’t think so, thanks.” He walked up his sidewalk and paused to pull a weed from his flowerbed, thinking about how much he hated those sparrows soiling his yard.
Mabel followed, yanking up a weed of her own and poking a finger into the dirt to test it. “You can dig a hole right here and plant St. Joseph. Upside down, of course.”
David righted himself, let the blood drain from his head. “Good Lord, that’s torture. Standing a man on his bean all day long.”
“I’m telling you, it works,” Mabel said, wide-eyed and lips thin and pious. “He sold the Dickels’ house in two days. And the Marty Kreigles?” She leaned in and whispered. “Sold before the house even went on the market.”
David shook his head. “I’ll pass.”
“You’ll be begging for it in two weeks,” she said. “When your floors have been muddied by too many boots. When you have to leave your house with Toto on his leash. It gets old, I tell you.”
David shrugged and walked into his house.

From behind her lace curtain Carolyn Snidegrass watched the goings-on across the street. She narrowed her eyes. That Mabel Pyle. Always putting her nose into David’s business. Ever since his divorce, Mabel had been trying to get David interested in her. Carolyn wouldn’t be surprised if Mabel had caused the split in the first place. Evelyn. Poor, sweet Evelyn. She always made the nicest pies. But anyway…Carolyn shook her head. All’s fair and all that. And Carolyn Snidegrass had her sights on David. No way was Mabel going to mess that up. David was not going to sell that house. Because if he sold that house he would have to move away.
* * *
The next morning, while it was still dark outside, Mabel scattered birdseed beneath her azalea bushes. “Good morning, Frances,” she said. She imagined he nodded. Then she walked to David’s house and dug a tiny hole. “Do your work, Joe,” she whispered, patting the dirt around his feet.
As soon as Mabel returned to her home and shut the door, Carolyn’s front door opened. She crept across the street and began digging in David’s garden.
At the same time, David tiptoed out of his side door, a gallon of bird repellent in his hand.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Minzy at http://minolisw.wordpress.com gave me this prompt: Heaven that leads to hell.

I gave Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.comthis prompt: The old house…

Travel Section

Every evening at eight thirty-two, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Friskies—on the second shelf of the pantry to the immediate right of the flour.
For days after getting the cat, he’d debated whether he ought to put the cat food beside the currents or move the flour—Gold Medal—next to the gravy mix.
In the end, he settled for the present arrangement.
He’s stuck to it faithfully ever since.

Now, he sits at the kitchen table drinking his coffee, reading the newspaper one article at a time. He prides himself on reading the entire paper, even the parts that don’t particularly interest him: Wedding announcements and the employment ads. The awful business section thick with words and concepts his mind cannot grasp. He saves the best section—Travel—for last.
He hears a key in the lock. The front door swings open. Merry Jaffries bustles in, a brown paper bag tucked beneath her arm. “How are you then, Thomas?” She pushes the door closed with the bottom of her boot and Thomas immediately checks the door for footprints. There’s a small smudge near the edge. He makes a mental note to clean it up after he finishes the newspaper.
“Brought you a surprise from the grocery store,” Merry says as she enters the kitchen.
“I don’t like surprises,” Thomas says warily. He marks his place in the article with his index finger and glances again at the smudge on the door.
“Nonsense. Everyone likes surprises.”
“Not me.”
Merry sets the bag on the kitchen table and begins unloading it as Thomas watches. “Four organic bananas,” she says. “A bit on the greenish side.”
Thomas nods. “Good.” Again he looks towards the door. He reaches for the handkerchief in his pocket.
“Three oranges. A bag of carrots. Three quarters of a pound of turkey, shaved not sliced.”
“Perfect.” Thomas is pleased with how well his new housekeeper is working out. Although…Again, he looks at the smudge.
“Cat food.” Merry finishes with a flourish.
“Friskies,” Thomas corrects.
“No.” Merry beams. “Meow Mix was on sale. Buy one get one.” She pulls out a bag.
“I don’t use Meow Mix.” Thomas began mentally scanning the contents of his pantry. Macaroni. Macadamia nuts. Manicotti (or had he placed that in pasta?). “Take it back,” Thomas says, shoving the bag towards Merry.
“I saved you eight ninety-five.”
“I don’t care. And you smudged my door when you came in.”
Merry squints. “Where?”
He points. “There.”
“Anything else I’m doing wrong, then?” Merry pours herself a cup of coffee and sets the mug on the travel section of the newspaper.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Thomas says. “You just put a ring around Romania.”
“Begging your pardon?”
He points. “Romania. You’ve ringed it with your coffee mug.”
Merry’s face reddens. Her lower lip quivers. “You’re impossible Thomas McMillan. You know what they say about you, down at the agency?”
He does. He does know.
“They say there’s nobody—nobody in this wide world—who can please you.” She sneers. “You and your demands. Why don’t you just go out and do your own shopping, then?” She picks up her purse and turns away. “I’m quitting you, Thomas. Just like all the others.” She sets her key on the newspaper, directly in the center of the coffee ring.
“Wait…” Thomas says. “I’m sorry…”
“Too late.” Merry heads through the front door and slams it behind her.
Thomas wets his handkerchief in the kitchen sink and rubs away the smudge of mud from the door.
He spends the rest of the afternoon rearranging his pantry to accommodate the Meow Mix.
“You know what this means,” Thomas’s sister Gerri says that afternoon at four forty-nine.
“No.” Thomas sighs.
“It’s a sign, of course.” Gerri puts great stock in signs and other signals from the universe. The only part of the newspaper Gerri ever reads is the horoscope section. “You’re meant to travel.”
“Where?”
She points to the coffee ring. “Romania of course.”
“I know nothing about Romania.” Truth be told, Thomas knows nothing about traveling anywhere. The entire span of his life has been spent within one city block.
“We’ve a great something-or-other from there. A famous poet or some such.”
“I have no use for poetry.” Thomas thinks lovingly of his fiction collection—all first editions, arranged alphabetically by author and dusted every morning.
“You could go swimming in the Black Sea.” Gerri’s eyes gleamed. “Think of it Thomas.” She gives him a smile. “It’ll be good for you to get away.”
“Who will feed the cat?”
She smiles. “I will. I promise.”
That evening, after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Meow Mix—on the third shelf of the pantry to the immediate left of the molasses. He sits down at his computer and books a ticket to Romania.
He goes to his room and packs his suitcase. He packs his dress slacks. He packs four golf shirts—blue, red, yellow and green. He packs a belt and underclothes and handkerchiefs. He packs his swim trunks, folded neatly inside his striped beach towel, never used.
Three days hence, Thomas looks out his window at the Carpathian Mountains. The letter C reminds him of his cat. He glances at his watch. Just after nine o’clock back home. He wonders whether Gerri has put the cat food back in its proper place in the pantry.
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Katri at http://bookslikeher.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: Pick a country you’ve never heard of or know next to nothing about. Write a story about going to that country.

I gave Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.comthis prompt: Paint-splattered jeans.

Uncertainties

Oxygen masks and monitors. Stainless steel trays. Sterile sheet stretched across a thin mattress covered in plastic. Among the stillness, Bethany Lowe lay quiet, the sun glinting off the diamond solitaire she’d worn for the past twenty-seven years.
The doctor looked at Bethany. “The car that hit hers must’ve been going at least eighty miles an hour.” He shook his head. “Time of death: six forth-one. Internal trauma.”
Caroline shook her head. “You’re wrong, Doctor. Bethany died years ago. She died of a broken heart.”
He frowned.
Room 412.”
The comatose patient?”
Eric Whyte. Bethany’s fiance for twenty-eight years.”
The doctor nodded and snapped off his gloves. He tossed them on the tray and headed out the door, leaving Caroline to pick up the pieces of Bethany’s death.
What happened?”
Caroline jumped and turned. She’d forgotten about the college kid, Beryl something. The kid was spending three weeks at the hospital. Some community service thing.
The day of her wedding…oh you should have seen her. She stood in the church basement posing for the photographer just radiating happiness. I was her maid of honor.”
The kid nodded. Stared at Bethany.
She wore her grandmother’s dress and carried a bouquet of wildflowers.”
Sounds beautiful.”
Eric was late. We kept delaying the wedding. Ten minutes. Ten minutes more. We thought Eric had gotten cold feet.” Caroline began picking up tubes and sponges. “All of a sudden, the best man burst into the basement. He told us that Eric had been hurt. That Bethany needed to get to the hospital.”
What happened to him?”
Shot. He’d been running late, as usual. Eric was late for everything. He decided to take a shortcut and got caught up in some street fight.” Caroline remembered how Bethany had dropped the bouquet on the floor. “She ran up the basement stairs and out of the church into the limo. She sat by his bedside for days, begging him to wake up,” Caroline told the kid. “Every day, after school, Bethany would come to the hospital to visit Eric.”
Sounds romantic.”
She talked for hours, telling him all about the kids at her school and what was happening in town. When she got tired of talking, she would read to him. Eric loved mysteries.” Carolyn sighed. “Everyone told her to let him go, but she refused.” Carolyn blinked and walked to the window. Birds were scattered across the sky like stars.
My God. To love someone so long.”
I loved him longer,” Carolyn whispered.
What?”
I introduced them. Eric and I were supposed to get engaged. Then I introduced him to Bethany.” She heard a commotion from the hallway. “What the hell’s going on?”
A nurse burst into the room. “Room 412 just woke up. He’s asking for water.”
Want to go see?” Caroline asked the kid.
Yeah.”
Caroline waited for the kid to go before pulling the ring from Carolyn’s finger and slipping it into her pocket beside the syringe. She headed down the hallway to room 412 and opened the door.
You’re too late,” the kid said to Eric.
Nonsense,” Carolyn replied. “I’m here.”
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Kurt at http://muzzlediaries.blogspot.com gave me this prompt: If death is certain, and time of death is uncertain…

I gave Diane Trujillo at http://theschmorgasboard.comthis prompt: She studied the grain of the wood, wondering if…

Evolution

Lillian Jamison stands on the sidewalk appraising her home. After she’d bought it, Lillian had hired a designer to pull the house together. They’d consulted for hours, discussing color charts and throw rugs and plush pillows. One piece at a time, she and her designer had constructed perfection.
Only one thing was missing.
“Soon,” she tells herself.

She pushes the code on the entrance pad and the doors glide open silently. She hangs her coat in the hall closet and walks into the kitchen. The walls here are lemon, bright and cheerful and warm. Her heels click on the ceramic tile, and this sound pleases her. Lillian takes a prepared meal from the freezer and pops it in the microwave. She sets the timer for five minutes.
She passes through the living room on her way to her bedroom. These walls are rouge and her decorator spoke the word with a perfect French accent, which Lillian also found pleasing. The color complements the sages and sorrel woven throughout the furniture. A Persian rug covers the floor: Lillian picked it up on her last trip overseas. The shelves are lined with artifacts from her digs, things slipped into her luggage when the boss wasn’t paying attention. She looks at the gold vase, the funeral mask, the coins, the pottery, the jewels. She adores the past. She adores history.
She continues to the bedroom and is stopped short. There. On the edge of the Persian rug.
Her child had been delivered.
No one had been there to sign for the package.
She’s astonished to see him lying there, no assembly required, apparently. There are no instructions; no accessories except for the little denim jeans and the red pullover sweater. She scrutinizes the child. Blond hair, just like she’d ordered. He opens his eyes. One is hazel, the other blue. Precisely what she’d wanted. “Hello, Mother,” he says.
“Hello,” she replies and smiles. No need to teach him English.
She tosses him a phrase in French and he responds in what sounds like German. She is satisfied. She had some of her brain installed in him, but at the last minute added a booster pack. It was on sale, after all, and guaranteed entrance into all the ivy leagues. “Do you need anything? Maybe a diaper change?”
He rolls his eyes. “I found the bathroom.”
She nods. Parenting is so easy. What was all the fuss people were always going on about? “Have you been waiting long?”
“I played some games.” He holds up an iPhone.
“Oh. You did come with accessories.” She looks at his hands. The child is fingerless. He is literally all thumbs. Two thumbs.
“Excuse me,” she says. She heads to her bedroom and closes the door behind her. She calls the 800 number she memorized weeks ago.
“Hello, Lillian.”
“My model is defective,” she whispers.
“No, madame. You have the latest model. We call it evolution.Texting thumbs. That’s all he needs.”
“I want to return it.”
“You can’t return a human.”
She screams and storms from her bedroom.
“Is everything OK, mother?” The child blinks.
She seizes the iPhone and throws it across the floor. It smashes a Greek vase before falling to the floor. She jams a thin black heel into the phone, launching Angry Birds and Temple Run simultaneously.
As she watches, the child’s hands begin to grow eight little nubs that lengthen into fingers; reaching like vines into possibilities.
“You can’t manufacture perfection, Mother,” it says and the paint on the perfect walls begins to weep and bleed.
From the kitchen, the timer beeps.
“Dinner is ready, Mother.”
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, SAM at http://frommywriteside.wordpress.comgave me this prompt: The inside of the home was rarely, if ever, spotless. Crumbs lined the edges of the kitchen cabinets, dust bunnies haunted the crannies of the entertainment center, but none of it mattered, for when you stepped into this home, the first thing that grabbed

I gave Eric Storch at http://sinistralscribblings.comthis prompt: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.


I took this prompt and turned it on its head.

Lucky

Megan parks her Taurus behind the line of BMWs and Porches, neatly waxed. She doesn’t bother locking the car. She’s not even sure the locks work anymore. Her trips to this house have always been infrequent. This would be her last. She pauses at the end of the brick sidewalk to stare at the house, big and imposing. Perhaps she should have changed from her jeans into something more appropriate. Too late now.
She approaches the front door, flanked on either side by marble lions frozen in snarling anger and time. Why had she been invited to this? She was only a distant relative. Perhaps the invitation was merely a duty paid to family obligations; a recognition of a connection, however tenuous.
“Megan.” Her mother’s cousin Sophie is framed by the open door. Her arms are crossed. “Everyone has been waiting.”
Megan continues up the sidewalk reluctantly. She wants no part of this dividing. How to split up a life?
“She’s in the parlor.” Sophie greets her with a whisper of a kiss; dry lips scratching air. “Go and pay your respects.”
Megan does as she is told. She sits on a red velvet chair beside the bed where her dead aunt lay. She takes one of her hands into her own. The skin is dry and leathery and painfully thin. She studies the lines in her aunt’s face, wishing she had taken the time to get to know her better. “Regrets,” she says to Cousin William, who has just entered the room. “Do we feed upon them or do they feed upon us?”
William gives her a strange look.
She’s always been considered the family crackpot; the oddball who doesn’t fit in anywhere. “Do you think Great Aunt Eloise is looking down on us right now?”
“I don’t know why I come to these things,” William says.
“Don’t you ever feel that?” she persists. “After someone dies?”
William loosens his tie. “No.”
“I’ll feel her looking down on me for weeks. When I’m in the shower. When I’m at work.” Megan laughs. “When I’m sitting on the couch wasting time watching TV.” She studies her cousin. “I’ll feel the presence of her more in death than in life.”
He shrugs.
“Don’t that bother you?”
“Don’t beat yourself up. She wasn’t the kindest of women.”
“She was kind enough.”
“Kept a tight grip on her change purse, didn’t she?”
“Don’t speak ill of her.”
“Why?” William grins. “Is she looking down on us right now? Afraid she’s listening?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I might.”
“The newly dead connect us to God.”
“Connect us to God?” William laughs. “How can you be so forgiving to a woman who left you nothing?”
So William knew as well. The relatives must have figured Megan would contest the will; demand a portion of the fortune. That was why they’d invited her today.
William rolls his eyes. “I’m going to get something to eat. Coming?”
“In a moment.” Megan stares at her aunt, trying to get some clue about the mysterious letter she’d received three weeks ago:
Meg,
Some will say I cheated you, by leaving you nothing at all.
But by leaving you nothing, I have left you everything.
Your relatives will fritter away their inheritance, putting on additions to their homes, buying jewelry, getting plastic surgery. They have bought into the illusory daydream, painted and decorated by the marketers: Pretty baubles and trendy boutiques and fancy coffee shops. But coffee is still coffee, regardless of the cup. And coffee will still grow bitter.
Their dreams will fade away. Their bitterness will grow. But you, Megan, who feel you fit nowhere, fit everywhere. Know that by being invisible, one can see all.
Find one thing, Megan, to remember me by.
Choose well, my dear.
Megan shakes her head. What did her aunt mean by those words?
She wanders into the kitchen where harried caterers load hors d’oeuvres upon trays. “Can I help?” Megan has always felt more at home serving than being served.
“Why?” One of the waiters says. “You afraid we’re going to steal your inheritance? Make off with the silverware?”
Megan shakes her head. “No, I…”
“You want to help, take this to the dining room.” A woman presses a tray into Megan’s hands.
She deposits the tray on the dining room table. Her relatives mill about snacking from pretty glass plates. Megan studies their mouths, chewing and talking and chewing some more; crumbs clinging to their lips. No one acknowledges her.
She goes to the living room and walks to the shelves; studies the trappings of a life trapped by fortune: Candlesticks of gold. A bronze sculpture. Rare first editions, all of them unread. Treasures from every corner of the globe decorate the shelves. Only one thing does not fit in. It’s as out of place as Megan is. A rabbit. Ears flopped over. Eyes closed, as if sleeping on a bed of clover. God it’s ugly.
Why had her aunt kept it?
Megan considers for a moment. No one would miss the rabbit. Certainly no one would want it. She picks it up, weighs it in the palm of her hand. It’s surprisingly heavy. Iron? She makes a mental note to ask Robert, as she slips the rabbit into her purse and heads back to the dining room.
“Listen,” she tells her aunt Sophie. “I’m beat. I think I’ll head out.”
“But…” Sophie’s protest is weak.
“Really,” Megan says. “I don’t want anything anyway.”
“Oh.” Sophie brightens a bit. “If you really mean that.”
“I do,” Megan says. “I’ll see you soon.” She heads for the door. No one says goodbye.
She dumps her new running shoes from their box and tucks the rabbit inside, pulling a bit of tissue from the shoes up alongside to tuck it in place. She pulls away from the curb, certain she can hear the collective sigh of relief from the relatives inside. She has no business being on this side of the city. She belongs on the South Side. The gritty side. The poor side.
She cuts through the city. Traffic is light at this hour. Close to home, Megan stops to let a jaywalker pass. An elderly woman, moving slowly behind a walker. Directly in front of Megan’s car, she stops. She looks Megan in the eye. Raises her hand and points. A chill runs up Megan’s spine.
A rustling in the car reminds her of the McDonald’s bag she’d stuffed beneath her seat after lunch. She reaches under and pulls it out.
The street is clear. A car behind her honks. She continues driving.
Again, the rustling.
Was it coming from the box? She pulls down a one way street and parks in front of a Laundromat. She opens the box. The tissue paper is torn to shreds. Megan stares inside of the box, trying to make sense of it. The rabbit’s eyes fly open, staring. She feels her stomach drop as she watches the rabbit’s hind leg twitch. Megan gets out of the car, takes the box inside the Laundromat, intending to throw it in the garbage.
“Oh, look,” a woman says staring inside the box. “That’s just beautiful. Where did you find it?” She rubs a finger along the rabbit, who arches its back in response.
“Did you see that?” Megan breathes.
The woman stares. “See what?”
“The rabbit. It…”
The woman frowns. “You want me to call a hospital, honey?”
Megan shakes her head; returns to her car. She pulls out her cell and dials. “Robert,” she says, when he picks up. “Could I be crazy?” Perhaps she needed a vacation.
“That’s why I love you, Megan.”
“No. Really. I…” She stares at the rabbit in the box. “Does seeing things other people don’t make me mad or a visionary?”
“You have the rabbit, don’t you?”
“How do you know about the rabbit?”
“I’ll meet you at your place. And Megan?”
“Yeah?”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell William.”

~end~

For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Lisa D.B. Taylor at http://www.neebeep.com/ldb-taylor/gave me this prompt: The rabbit was made of iron, though she swore she’d see its foot twitch.

I gave Tara Roberts at http://thinspiralnotebook.wordpress.com this prompt: misspellings and misconceptions

Yesterday’s Soup

The snow falls thick and heavy from a sky made up in soft sheets of grey. Beatrice putters about her kitchen, watching the flakes soundlessly fall. She pauses to look out the window. William Harris trudges behind his prancing dog Trudi, who wears a red jacket with shiny sequins. Although she cannot see them today, Beatrice knows that Trudi’s nails are painted red: William’s wife gives the dog a manicure every Sunday after church.
The tea kettle whistles and she turns off the gas. She studies her assortment of teas, decides upon a good, strong Earl Grey. She sets the bag in her mug and pours water on top. Outside, the roads are silent and still. “Snow day today, I’ll bet,” she tells the cat, who sits at her feet, tail curled around his toes. She sits at the kitchen table with her tea and watches the birds gather at her feeders: goldfinch and sparrows. A few chickadees.

A cardinal flies up, clutches tiny feet around a branch. “A male,” she tells the cat. “Bright red color. The female dresses more conservatively. You could almost accuse her of being drab,” she adds, then immediately regrets it. After the children left, her husband had told Beatrice she was drab. He’d told her he wanted someone flashier; someone who liked to get dressed up and go dancing on a Friday night. She stares again at the cardinal and she wonders whether it is just humans whose females adorn so lavishly.
The neighbor children have gathered outside. The oldest one picks up a bit of snow and forms it into a ball. He sets it down and pushes it along the ground. It grows so quickly that soon enough it’s two feet high and takes three of them to move it, the ball rolling up a white carpet of snow, leaving a patch of muddied grass behind. The youngest one—too small to be of much use—runs along this path of green while the others rub at the snowball with mittened hands until it is smooth and clean.
“Soup weather,” Beatrice says. She rummages through her freezer until she finds the packet of oxtails she got on sale last spring. She sets them on the counter and begins slicing onions. These, she browns in a little oil, adding the meat, turning it carefully with tongs, jumping back occasionally to avoid the angry splatter. The cat circles her legs, its tail in a question mark.
She sees the snowman is complete. Three balls, neatly stacked. The children have set a sombrero upon his gigantic head. Beatrice smiles and fills her stock pot with water. She cuts parsnips and turnips, carrots too, carefully sliding them off the cutting board and into the water. The windows have begun to steam over; here and there a drop of water drips down the glass.
She looks at the pot. Once again, she has cooked for too many.
Beatrice spends the rest of the day in silence, thinking about her children who never seem to have the time to call ever since their dad died.
They blame her. For his death. This she knows.
That day, just after lunch, she’d dressed in red. She’d slipped into black heels, laughing at herself and lecturing, too. What was a woman her age doing dressing this way? Her husband had nodded off in his easy chair, his chin touching his chest. She would surprise him with this outfit. She would tell him she wanted to go dancing.
But when she touched his arm, he remained still. “He didn’t even have the courtesy to wake up,” she told the cat now, “didn’t even take the time to tell me how beautiful I looked before he checked out.”

The kids arrived soon after the ambulance. They’d accused her of having an affair; of sneaking around on their father while he was at work.
She didn’t bother correcting them.
His girlfriend showed up at the funeral.
She wore a red dress and cried with abandon. She was six months pregnant.
Beatrice shakes her head to clear it of old memories. No point in thinking about that now.
She eats her dinner in silence. Too early. But what else to do when one is alone?
She retires, tucking herself in and falling asleep to canned laugher on the television.
She dreams of snowmen.
She blinks awake and slips her feet into her slippers. She walks to the window; parts the lace curtains and peers outside. “He’s missing something,” she tells the cat. She ties on her robe and heads to the coat closet; pulls the wicker basket from the top shelf. She digs through mismatched mittens and old hats until she finds the red scarf she’s looking for. “Stay here, Cat.” She steps out into the snow, crosses the street and wraps the red scarf around the snowman’s neck. “Thought you might be chilly.” She pats him on his cold and rounded shoulder.
“Looks good,” someone says behind her and for a moment Beatrice believe the snowman is speaking to her; believes that the red scarf has magically brought him to life. She whirls around.
“William! You startled me!” There’s a man behind her; an older man; and Beatrice regrets her robe and slippers.
“Beatrice, this is my father,” William gestures to the man. “David.”
David extends his hand. His face, she notices, is ruddy.
At noon, she heats up yesterday’s soup; sets out a bowl. The doorbell rings. “Now who could that be?” she asks the cat. She opens the door. David stands on the stoop, a single red rose in his hand.
The temperatures rise that afternoon. The snowman lowers his head to his chest, begins melting away. But Beatrice and David don’t notice, so engrossed are they in conversation.
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, David Wiley at http://scholarlyscribe.wordpress.com gave me this prompt: Writing Prompt: Snow

I gave daily shorts at http://ashortaday.wordpress.com/ this prompt: Ask the questions that have no answers.–Wendell Berry

Incapable Heroes

The girl wears shiny patent leather shoes. There’s a scuff of mud on the left heel. Her tights are bright white, shockingly white, like too-perfect teeth or brand-new sheets. Her dress is red velvet. A long ribbon encircles her waist and ends in a luxurious bow at her back.
Her mother presses three dollars into her hand, folds the fingers over her palm. “Right to town and back,” she says. “Follow the sidewalk all the way. No turns.”
The girl nods absently.
“Are you listening?”
“Follow the sidewalk all the way.”
“To the bakery and right home.”

“OK.”
“No dawdling. No talking to anyone.” Her mother smooths down the skirt of the girl’s red velvet dress and gives her a smile. “You’re growing up.”
The girl blushes, twists the skirt in her hands.
“Just don’t grow up too fast,” her father adds, opening the front door.
She can feel the eyes of her parents on her back as she skips down the street. She knows her mother will be timing her return. She feels herself hurrying.
Merryweather Street is to her right. To her left, a long brick wall, mainly red, but patched over in places with a thin layering of grey cement. She wonders who lives behind that wall. She thinks it must be a lovely place for a birthday party. She imagines large gardens and balloons; ice cream cake and pinatas suspended from branches.
The sun warms her back and she is filled with joy at her freedom. She begins to skip towards town. And as she skips a familiar melody floats over the red brick wall. She hums to it, incorporating the melody into her movement until the song becomes a part of her; and she becomes the song.
She pauses. Cocks her head. The song is different from the way she sings it at school; the tune is accompanied by a strange sound. Flesh against flesh, like someone slapping away mosquitoes.
She slows to a walk and approaches the wall. She runs her index finger between the bricks until she comes to a crack in the wall. She worries away mortar with her finger, working out a chink, leaving a small hole behind. She presses her eye to it. The brick is cold against her face, and rough, too, like the Saturday bristles on her father’s face that remain throughout the weekend before they’re smoothed away on Monday.
Images come to her in pieces: A little boy. A limping dog. A purple stool overturned. She sees a red-faced man, reaching for the boy; sees the thick hand come down against the boy’s face. As the man strikes the boy, he sings the words to the song. The girl gasps as her brain fits the pieces into a cohesive whole. The boy meets her eye. His mouth forms a single word that she cannot hear. And yet, she understands.
* * * 
“Good girl,” her mother says when she returns. “I’m proud of you.” And her father smiles.
The little girl does not tell her parents about the man behind the wall. Nor of the child. Nor of the dog. She does not speak of purple stools and children’s songs. And this day, she has grown up much more than her parents intended.
“Let’s watch a movie,” her father suggests, after they have eaten the bread with their dinner. He licks his finger and presses it into a crumb on the tablecloth.
She sits on the couch between her parents. The screen flashes to life and images hit her retina, flooding her brain with color and motion and possibilities. Some comic book brought to life: Superman or Batman. Perhaps Wonder Woman. It doesn’t matter.
Ten minutes in, her father pauses the movie, wanting a snack. Her mother rises to pop corn. While the air fills with the scent of melting butter, she tells her parents about purple stools and slapping hands.
Her mother bites her lip. Her father shakes his head.
Oh, look, her mother says. There’s a bit of mud on your shoe. She licks her finger and rubs the spot away. Her father takes a handful of popcorn and tosses it in his mouth.
They return to the movie, incapable heroes cloaked in capes.
~end~
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Supermaren at http://supermaren.com gave me this prompt: A crack in the wall. I gave http://ashortaday.wordpress.com/ this prompt: living on Easy Street.