The Fullness of the Moon

 “Wheel me outside, Eleanor.”
“No, David.  It’s too warm.  You’ll…”
His smile was wry.  Ironic.  “I’ll what?  Catch my death in that heat?  Too late to think about that, I’m afraid.” 
I turned towards the window.  “The lightning bugs have arrived.”

“Please, El…”
I looked over my shoulder at him.
“Send me off with a bang.”
I nodded.  “OK.”
His cheeks brightened.  A smile—a real smile—flashed across his face.  “Call the kids over.”
I picked up the telephone.  Dialed Paul.
 “We’re having a party,” I said.
“Mother, Dad’s dying,” he said.  “Can’t you ever think about him?”  My son needed to blame someone for his father’s illness: God wasn’t available. 
“It’s what he wants.  Call your brothers.  Have them bring the little ones.  It may be…”
Paul hung up.
I went outside and built a campfire.  I rummaged through cabinets for graham crackers and chocolate bars and marshmallows.  I cut thin branches from the trees in the woods.
I fixed David a mug of tea; held it to his lips.  “Are the kids coming?”  He asked, eyes closed.
“Drink,” I said.
I went to the garage and gathered up a handful of the glass mayonnaise jars David had insisted upon saving—just in case I want to make pickles—for the entire span of our thirty year marriage.
A car pulled up into the driveway.  I ran to meet it.  “Liam!” 
“How is he?”
I took the baby from Meredith’s arms.  Nuzzled her close while her sister wrapped her arms around my leg. 
“Hi, Mimi.  Party?”
Meredith slapped the child.  “No, Karen.  No party.  Grandpa’s sick.”
I knelt before Karen.  Kissed away her tears.  “Yes,” I whispered.  “A party for your grandfather.  Run inside and say hello.”
Derrick next with his two year old twins and then, finally, Paul.
“How is Dad?”
“Hello to you too, Paul.  He’s doing the best as can be expected.  Help me wheel him outside?”
His eyes widened. “In this heat, Mother?  With these mosquitoes?”
“It’s what he wants, Paul.  We have to honor that.”
“No.”  He shook his head.  “I’m calling his doctor.”
I wheeled David out onto the deck.  He watched the little ones toddle around on fat baby legs, chasing lightning bugs; squealing with delight whenever they trapped one.  The adults eyed each other uncertainly. 
“Who wants a s’more?”  I said.
Meredith, sweet Meredith came to my rescue.  “I want a s’more Eleanor.  Shall I make you one, David?”
He smiled.  “Please, dear.”
“Lightly toasted or burned?”
“Lightly toasted.”  David eyed me, grinning.  “Hopefully that’s all the punishment I’ll get.”
“Don’t say that, Father.”  Paul appeared at the sliding glass door.  “You’re going straight to heaven.” 
“Did you call the doctor?”  I asked.
“Yes.”  Paul light a cigarette and shook out the match.  “He’s coming over.”
“Oh, there’s no need…” David began.
Paul shook his head.  Blinked back tears.  “He said to save him a s’more.”
The full moon hung heavy and expectant in the sky.
 The doctor showed up; pulled a firecracker from his medical bag.  Set it off.  The noise drew out Bill—our neighbor, and, unfortunately, the fire chief.
“I’m sorry, Bill,” the doctor said.  “It was my fault.”  They conversed in a corner of the lawn for a few moments.  Bill headed home and returned with a big bag of fireworks.
The children were gathered.  The lightning bugs were set free.  Bill planted a firework in the ground and lit the fuse.
As the moon rose higher, David weakened. 
“How will I live without you?”
“Watch for me in the fullness of the moon,” he said.  His eyes were light by the glow of the fireworks, and I turned to watch.
“Eleanor.”
Meredith.  Tears in her eyes.  She picked up a napkin and wet it in her mouth before dabbing away a bit of marshmallow from David’s lips.
* * *
Thirty years later, I still wait for the fullness of the moon; to see if David’s face is reflected in it.  And the mayonnaise jars continue to stand sentry in the garage, as if they too, await his return.

This was written in response to StoryDam’s prompt: Show us what is waiting for the full moon.  

This was also linked up with Yeah, Write.

Waiting for Bull’s Eye

The purpose of a door, I suppose is to keep things out.  Wayward strangers.  Bad weather.  Nosy investigators from Child Protection.  Critters, too, of course: Momma don’t want no skunks and coons trailing inside to bear their young behind the wood burning stove.  I guess a door is a barrier; a kind of plastic wrap designed to keep the inhabitants inside safe.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, anyhow.

Our door is a painted soft green on the inside.  Momma painted it; says it recollects to her mind the first buds of spring.  Momma needs such reminders: She ain’t been outside in fifteen years.

Neither have I.

There’s a dartboard hanging on the inside of that door, a dartboard so full of holes it can no longer hold onto a dart.  And yet, I still throw. 

I throw, letting the darts plan my destination: One: San Diego; Two: Columbus; Three: Tallassee. The truth is, I don’t much care where I go.  As long as I head somewhere.

“Liese?”

“Yes, Momma.”  I throw a dart.  It bounces and falls to the floor.

“You fixing us some lunch?”

“Mmm hmm…”  Another dart.  Six: Detroit.

“I’m getting hungry.”

Ain’t nothing wrong with Momma, if that’s what you’re wondering.  She’s got two feet and two legs, same as me.  She ain’t fat and confined to her bed.  No.  It’s just that Momma’s afraid to leave her room.

Used to be she couldn’t leave the neighborhood. 

Then she couldn’t leave the house.

Now, confines herself to her bedroom; living her entire life in an eight by ten space full of loneliness and fear.

Momma’s been in that room for four years now.  I take care of her business, pouring it in the outhouse three times a day. 

I accept the charity of the neighbors. 

I throw darts.

“What you fixing, Liese?”

Chicken feet is what I want to say.  “Ravioli.  Miz Thompson brought it over.”

I will heat up Momma’s lunch and take it to her on a plate.  She and I will eat by the light of a kerosene lantern, she making plans for a trip outside her bedroom; me pretending to believe her. 

I have one rule; one promise I have made to myself.  If I ever hit that bulls eye, I’m leaving.  I’ve got my bags packed and no amount of begging from Momma will cause me to stay.

“Liese?”

I throw the dart.  Eight: Phoenix.  “Coming, Momma.”

* * *

Momma cuts a ravioli into eight neat pieces so she doesn’t choke and end up going to the hospital.  “What are you planning on doing this afternoon, Liese?”

“Nothing. Same as always.”

“You don’t do nothing.  You play those darts.”

“I hit that bulls eye, Momma, and I’m gone.”

She shakes her head.  “It ain’t safe out there, Liese.  All kinds of trouble.  You could die.”

I sigh.  I have died a thousand deaths on the inside of this door.  I gather up Momma’s plate and take the dishes to the kitchen.  We will have ravioli for dinner tonight.

After I clean up the kitchen, I pick up my darts again.  Eighteen: Des Moins.  Eleven: Nome.  Twenty: Trenton.

All these places to visit and I have not set foot off of this mountain.

* * *

 Miz Davidson hands me a casserole through the open window.  “Yam and marshmallows,” she pronounces.  “With a touch of sausage.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

“Good lord, child, when are you getting out of this place?”

I shrug.

She shakes her head.  “You got to make your own opportunities, Liese.  You can’t be waiting on superstition or luck or even your momma to give you permission.”

“Momma ain’t never giving me permission, Miz Davidson.”

“Are you…”  Miz Davidson glances around before continuing.  “Liese, are you waiting for your mother to pass?”

“No.  I’m waiting on the bulls eye.”  I point to the dart board.

“Come outside, Liese.  You don’t have to wait for the bulls eye.” 

“But I…”

Her eyes are shining.  “It’s a wonderful day.”

I set the casserole on the counter and go to the door.  I reach for the door handle. 

“If you open that door, it’s over, Liese.  Once you’re gone don’t come back to me for no help.”

I pause.  Momma’s standing at her bedroom door. 
“Momma, I’ve got to live.”

“I need you.”  Her face is red.  Tears stream down her cheeks. 

“Liese, open that door,” Miz Davidson commands from the window.

“I’m sorry, Momma.”  I turn the knob and pull open the door. 

The grass is soft beneath my feet and the buds are green and there, in the center of that flower, a dash of red.

Momma comes to the door.  She’s holding a gun.  “Bulls eye,” she says to Miz Davidson.

This was linked up to StoryDam’s challenge.

Miss Mabel

“Now Miss Mabel,” Henry said, pulling his rocker closer to the fire, “she was a talker.  Miss Mabel could talk the ear off the corn.”  He nodded to himself with the memory  of it.  “Oh, yeah.  Miss Mabel liked to talk.”
He settled himself into his story as easily as he settled himself into the rocker.  “Poor old Jebediah Green, he never had two nickels to rub together, what with all those kids.  How many, Eleanor?”  Henry stopped rocking and looked over his shoulder into the kitchen.
“Thirteen, dear.”  Eleanor called.  She added sugar to the peaches and began stirring.

“Thirteen,” Henry repeated as if he’d just recalled the number.  He resumed rocking.  “Jebediah’s career as a thief started out small: When his own crop of corn failed, Jebediah sneaked out to McDougle’s field to harvest a dozen ears or so, just enough, mind you, to feed his children.”
 “Not that stealin’s ever a good thing,” Eleanor said.  She added cinnamon and salt and fresh squeezed lemon. 
“McDougle let the matter slide.  What were a few ears of corn now and again?”
I nodded.  He had to feed his children.
“A few weeks later, Jebediah stole a pound of flour, to make bread for the children.”
“Thievin’ always gets you caught.”  Eleanor measured out flour into a steel mixing bowl.
“Who’s telling the story, woman, me or you?”
Eleanor grinned at me.  “Perhaps, Henry, you should have left me in the dead of night, the way you’d planned.”
Henry laughed.  “Jebediah got the notion in his head that he needed tobacco to fill his pipe.  He was tired of smoking corn husks.  He sneaked down to Davidson’s barn where the tobacco was curing and brought home a year’s supply.”
“Hung it up in his own barn, that was his first mistake,” Eleanor said.
“Yes.”  Henry stroked his beard.   “It was in Jebediah’s blood now.  And once thieven’s in the blood, it’s hard to wash it out.  Jebediah decided he needed some sheep.  In the middle of the night, he sneaked into Dorothy Roe’s pasture.”
“Never mess with a woman,” Eleanor said.  She sprinkled flour on the countertop and gently kneaded her piecrust.  
“Jebediah blackened two sheep with the ashes from his fire.  And he lifted them right over the fence.”  Henry laughed.  “Oh, those sheep, they put up a fuss.  Bleatin’ like lost babes.  Jebediah saw the lights come on in Dorothy’s house and he started running.”
“Shot him in the ass, Dorothy did.”  Eleanor smiled at her crust.
 “The sheriff showed up wiping the sleep from his eyes and loaded Jebediah into the patrol car.”
“Had to sit lopsided the entire way.”  Eleanor fitted the crust into a pie plate and poured the filling in.  She ran her index finger along the inside of the bowl and popped it in her mouth.  “Three years in prison, the judge told him.”
Henry nodded.  “Or a year living with Miss Mabel.”  His eyes sparkled.  “Remember now, Miss Mabel could chew on one topic for near the entire day.  Jebediah, of course, didn’t know that.  That first day, he went up the stairs and rang the bell.  Miss Mabel opened the door; told Jebeidah to come in, make yourself at home.  And then, after Jebediah was sitting down with a cup of tea in one hand and a scone warming the other, Miss Mabel began to talk.
Henry lifted his voice an octave.  “What do you think about that weather, Jebediah?” 


“Warming up some.”  Jebediah took a bite of his scone.


“I believe it’s a bit colder than it was yesterday.” Miss Mabel stood and walked to the front windows.  “Yes, thirty-five today.”  She turned around and met Jebediah’s eye triumphantly.  “It was thirty-six yesterday.  See those clouds over there?”  She pointed.


Jebediah looked out the window; nodded.


“They’re bringing a storm, that’s for certain.  What kind of clouds are they, do you think?”


Jebediah shrugged.  “Storm clouds?”


“Naw, they’re called something.  Ceres something?”


“Don’t rightly know, I guess.”


“Serious?  Is that it?”


“I really don’t know, Miss Mabel.”


Miss Mabel frowned.  She pulled on her lower lip.  She studied the clouds some more.  “No, I remember.  There are three types.”  She turned.  “What are they?”


Jebediah didn’t quite know what to say.


 “You know, I think I have an almanac around here somewhere.  Let me just go see…”  She left the room. 


Jebediah helped himself to another scone, chewing it hungrily, abandoning his manners now that Miss Mabel had gone. 


She returned a few moments later, a big book in her hand.  “Let’s see now.”


There was a knock at the door.  Jebediah stood.  “I’ll get it, Miss Mabel.  You don’t want to strain yourself.” 


“Morning, Jebediah.”  The sheriff lifted his hat in greeting.


“Why, good morning, Sheriff.”  Miss Mabel rushed to the door.  “Do come in.”


“Just checking on my friend here.”  The sheriff patted Jebediah’s shoulder.  “Making sure he’s all settled in.”


“Sheriff,” Miss Mabel said.  “Do you know the name of those clouds out there?”


The sheriff looked out the window.  “Them’s snow clouds, Miss Mabel.  Cirrostratus.”


Miss Mabel beamed and clapped her hands.  “There, now, Jebediah.  You see?  They do have a name.”  She paused and glanced at her book.  “You wouldn’t happen to know how to spell that would you, Sheriff?”


The sheriff winked at Jebediah.  “I wouldn’t rightly know, Miss Mabel, but I’m sure Jebediah here can help you out.”


After the sheriff left, Miss Mabel and Jebediah returned to the parlor.  Jebediah sat on a straight-backed chair, leaving Miss Mabel the loveseat.  He took the newspaper from his back pocket and pretended to read it.  He was hoping Miss Mabel would fall asleep.  But no, Miss Mabel opened the book again and located the page she was looking for.  “Here it is,” she declared.  And then, she began reading out loud.  And darned if Miss Mabel didn’t read that entire book to Jebediah.


The next afternoon, he ran to the sheriff, begged him to put him back in jail; said he’d take the three years.  But the sheriff just laughed at him; told him the sentence was firm.  Then he winked and told Jebediah to stop at the pharmacy on the way back to Miss Mabel’s.  Pick up some wax to stuff his ears with.  Miss Mabel wouldn’t notice, the sheriff said.  Unless she got up good and close and Jebediah sure as sure wasn’t about to let that happen.

Henry laughed and slapped his knee.  “Poor old Jebediah.” 
Eleanor came and sat beside me.  She patted my knee and smiled at her husband.  “Finish the story, Henry.”
Henry nodded.  “Jebediah survived the year with Miss Mabel and was a model citizen after that.  But he never did take that wax from his ear.  Whenever you wanted to talk to him, you had to get real close and shout.”
“Why didn’t he remove it?” I asked.
Henry grinned.  “Said the wax kept him from listening to the devil.  Claimed it was the devil making him do all that thievin’.
“Miss Mabel died the day after Jebediah left her.  They buried her on the north side of the cemetery.  And they say,” Henry said, rooting around in his hairy ear, “that if you pass alongside Miss Mabel’s grave, you can hear her still yammering away.”  He stopped rocking;  met my eye.  “And that’s why we always bury our kin along the south side of the cemetery.”
Eleanor smiled at Henry.  “I believe that pie is done.”  She turned to me.  “Won’t you stay for a slice?”

This piece was written for StoryDam’s weekly challenge.

Pawn

The driver pulled to the curb.  “You want me to wait?”


 “No.”  I opened the door and stepped one foot out, as if testing the temperature of the water.  “Yeah, wait,” I amended.  “Please.  Fifteen minutes, tops.”


The driver nodded and shook open his newspaper to the sports page. 


I slammed the door and passed through the gates leading to the brownstone.  The lawn was well-tended, mowed precisely and evenly.  Not a single leaf dotted the grass, despite the wind.  Late-blooming flowers churned out their colors, while those whose summer work was done had been trimmed back neatly.  Here and there small statues decorated the garden.  Eugene often joked, in better days, that they were his family.  He once told me he liked them because they didn’t talk back.


I knocked quietly.  The doorbell would be too loud; too merry.


The housekeeper opened the door.  She wore a crisp white apron over her dress, nearly ironed and heavily starched.  She spoke in hushed tones as if Eugene were already dead.  “Welcome, Tom.  Thank you for coming.  Shall I take your coat?”


“Please.”  I wanted to address her by name, but the truth was, Eugene had never introduced us.  She was just always there, a presence, like one of the statues in his garden, alive, yes, but never talking back.  Never having any needs to attend to except Eugene’s.


She nodded up the stairs.  “He’s in the study.  You know the way.”


The carpet was soft beneath my feet.  I grabbed the handrail to steady my nerves.  I paused outside the door for a moment before grasping the handle—custom made; a copper rosebud polished to perfection—and turning it to the right.


The door swung open.


Eugene sat behind the desk, stacks of paper before him.  He looked up, removed his glasses.  Smiled weakly.  “Tom.  Good of you to come.  I’d get up but…”


I nodded.  Stepped into the room and shut the door.  But I lingered there.  “You look…good.”
He barked a laugh.  “I look like shit, Tom.  You’re always glossing over everything, aren’t you?  Lying, I suppose is the better term.  That’s why you were in the front and I was in the back, doing the real work.”  I stiffened then relaxed.  It was true: Eugene was the business man.  I just spun tales for the media.


“Don’t let it go, Tom.”  I was startled by the pleading note in Eugene’s voice.  “Keep it running.  That business is like a child to me.  The daughter I never had.”


“You have Laura.”


He frowned.  “Laura refused to have anything to do with me.  Refused my money; refused the vacations; refused the college education I dangled before her.  Had to do it on her own, the stubborn fool.”


I grinned.  “Perhaps she’s more like her father than you realize.  Or admit.”


“Laura is her mother through and through.”  Eugene grunted.  Do you know she’s got three boys?  And I’ve never even met them?” 


I shrugged.  Feigned indifference.  Of course I knew, the children were my own flesh and blood. 


“I bet she thinks she’s getting it all.”


Again, I shrugged.  Laura didn’t want her father’s money.


“I’m leaving it all to you, Tom.”


“You’re what?”


Eugene gestured around the expansive room.  “The houses, the business, the cars…All yours.”


“I can’t…” 


He smiled.  “I’m sure you’ll find a way.”  Then he closed his eyes.  “Leave me now, I’m tired.”


* * *


I descended the stairs.  The housekeeper appeared on silent feet and retrieved my coat.  I slipped into it.  “Thank you…”  I turned.  “What is your name, anyway?”


She shook her head.  “It doesn’t matter.”  As she opened the front door for me, I saw gray clouds moving in to take their place in the sky.


I got into the taxi and gave the driver Laura’s address.  The driver folded his newspaper and put the car in gear. 


“What’s your name,” I asked, handing the driver a stack of bills outside Laura’s house. 


His eyes met mine in the mirror.  “What, you getting religion now that your business partner’s dying?  You don’t care about my name, Tom Jacobs.”


Laura met me at the door, hands on hips.  “You went to see him, didn’t you?”


“I did.”


“I asked you not to.  Let him be the needy one for once.”


“He’s my business partner, Laura.  Besides that, he’s my friend. Don’t you want to know how he’s doing?”


“No.”


“Aren’t you at least going to let me come in?”


“We’re through.”


And I suddenly realized that Laura didn’t love me at all.  I had merely been a pawn in Eugene’s and Laura’s chess game.  I couldn’t let her go: “He left me everything,” I said.  “How will you survive on your own?”


She smiled.  “Eugene taught you well.”


And the thunder clapped and rain streaked down the windows like tears. 


And at that very moment, I was later told, Eugene Davidson died.


This was written in response to Storydam’s weekly writing challenge.

Made Up

Howard looked at her, wide-eyed.  He pointed to the door.

 

“I ain’t going nowhere, Howard.  Your daddy don’t scare me.”  She gathered up glasses and plates and set them in the kitchen sink, humming a little as she did so to steady her nerves.  When she saw Daddy Sheriff standing in the hallway, she startled.  “Well, speak of the devil.  Where you headed with that big ole’ suitcase?”

“I’m going hunting.”

She looked at the oversized suitcase, the zipper gasping and straining.  “How many articles of clothing does a man require to go romping through the woods after helpless animals?”  And where were his guns, anyway?

“Don’t expect me for some time.”  The door slammed. 

“Enjoy yourself, asshole.”  Lilly Jean returned to the kitchen and ran water in the sink. 

Howard switched off the television set and got the vacuum from the closet.  Lilly Jean smiled.  “Why thank you, Howard.  I wish I’d met you before I met your daddy.  Lord knows, you’re more considerate of other people’s emotionals.”

And then, since it was dark and since Daddy Sheriff wouldn’t be looking for dinner, Lilly Jean went to bed.   

She woke refreshed and felt oddly pleased with herself.  She found, without Daddy Sheriff beside her, that she’d slept well.  She washed her hair then deep conditioned it.  She shaved and exfoliated and moisturized.  She wrapped a towel around herself and sat at her vanity.  She opened her makeup bag and looked in the mirror.  She spoke to her reflection.  “Why are you doing this, Lilly Jean Jacobs?”

Her reflection gazed back passively. 

She thought back to Mrs. Murphy’s classroom.  She must have been a sixth grader then.  She counted back the years.  Her daddy had moved them to Memphis that year.  He became a musician.  Lilly Jean became one of them latchkey kids. 

In latchkey she fell in love.

She tried everything to get Bobby’s attention: She helped him with his homework.  He wasn’t impressed.  She laughed at his stupid jokes.  He smiled at her in the hallway.  She curled her hair.  He brushed her hand against hers.  She moisturized and painted her nails and bought all manner of cosmetics.  He asked her on a date. 

They agreed to go steady.

Two weeks later, he dumped her to pursue a more popular, prettier girl.

The following morning, Lilly Jean went to school dressed to kill.

All the boys noticed.

She’d thought at the time she enjoyed it. 

“What a waste,” she told her reflection.  “Men just ain’t worth it.”  And she imagined her sixth grade self nodding back in agreement. 

“I suppose mistakes are building blocks.”  She laughed then and her reflection laughed, too.  “Hell, with all my mistakes, I got a whole construction company of my own.”

Lilly Jean studied herself.  “Why do you paint all this shit on your face every morning?  For some dumb-assed man?  They all end up screwing you over, Lilly Jean.  They either find someone with bigger boobs or a perkier caboose.  Or someone just a shade younger or prettier or smarter.  All this makeup, Lilly Jean?  It’s like putting gravy on one of Spank’s shoe-leather pork chops.  You can’t disguise what’s underneath.”

Her reflection grinned.

Lilly Jean put the makeup bag aside.  She stood.  And for the first time in years, Lilly Jean went to meet the world without a speck of makeup on.

This was writen in response to Story Dam’s prompt. 

Gifted

It was the Boy who conceived me.  He sat at a squat table swinging his legs, the laces of both shoes dangling.  His tongue stuck out at the right corner of his mouth. 
I started life as a piece of orange construction paper pressed up tightly against the other colors in the pack—green and pink and yellow and blue.  The teacher opened the pack and fanned us out upon the table.  The Boy chose me.  The Boy changed me.

The Boy cut me into what you humans call a heart.  Coated me thickly in glue.  And then, he covered me with a white paper doily and rubbed at it with his thumb to smooth out the glue.
“Mommy will love this,” he told me as he affixed two eyes crookedly to me.  The boy filled me with purpose and intent and slowly, I began to take shape.
He painted on a green nose and a smile of yellow.
He shook glitter over me-gold and silver and red and blue.
He attached a thick stick to my back. 
“You’re beautiful,” the Boy whispered.
* * *
At eleven o’clock, you picked the Boy up from preschool.  His face was beaming.  You had your head bowed over your cell phone.
“Look, Mommy!” The Boy held out his gift to you.  “Look what I made for you.”
You glanced up.  Frowned.  “Hearts aren’t orange, silly.”  You took me in your hand.  You placed a thumb in my wet yellow smile.  “Oh,” you said.  “Thank you.”  You painted on your own smile as some of my glitter spilled across your pretty white sweater. 
You looked at another mother.  Spoke through your teeth.  “Why the hell does she let them use glitter?”
You took me home and posted me on the refrigerator, where I’ll remain until another messy project replaces me.   Every time you look at me, I can see you considering: Is it too early to sneak that into the bottom of the trash can?

You find me too gluey, too glittery, too messy. 
I know you don’t want me.  I know you don’t love me.
But the thing is, the Boy knows it too.
This prompt was written in response to GiftedDam Burst – Since many of you don’t appear to be being challenged enough, we’re going to step our game up a little for the Dam Burst prompts…starting today. You get to play the part of the gift (Mwah ha ha!) Write a piece in which you, the gift, have fulfilled your destiny—to be given to someone… only they don’t want you. Good luck!

Story Dam

Depths of Winter

Lilly Cecilio takes her books to the checkout desk.  The librarian looks at her for a moment.  “I can help you here, Mrs. DeGrassi.”

Lilly frowns.  “Ellen, I was here first.”

The librarian takes Mrs. DeGrassi’s books and begins scanning them.  “Going to be a cold one tonight.  Record lows and a foot of snow at least.”

“Ellen,” Lilly said.  “I run your book sale every year.”

The librarian slides the books to Mrs. DeGrassi.   “I can help you, Mrs. DePaul.” 

 Everywhere she goes, Lilly meets with the same.  The pharmacist turns her back on her.  The salon owner spits on her shoes.   And a woman Lilly doesn’t know approaches her on the sidewalk.  “My boys’ education is in that fancy house of yours.”


Lilly stares.

 “Is it in the furniture?”

“I don’t…”

 “Is it in those plush carpets you step your pretty feet across every morning?”

“I’m sorry.  I didn’t know…”

 “You didn’t know?  What kind of a wife doesn’t know what her husband is up to?  Are you blind?”

All her life Lilly has been identified in relation to someone else.  First her father, former State Senator and recently-appointed diplomat.  Now her husband: Venture capitalist.  Suspected felon.

“Give me your name.  I’ll send you a check.”

“You don’t have any money.  Government’s got it all tied up in knots.”

The woman turns away and Lilly heads to her pretty house upon the hill.

It used to be, Lilly thinks as she slips into a pair of old sweats and a baggy sweatshirt, that she enjoyed walking around town, basking in the recognition of the townspeople, people looking upon her with a mixture of admiration and jealousy.  But now that she’s known as that bastard’s wife, she finds recognition painful.  She longs to be invisible.

She folds back the sheets and falls asleep with the lights on.
* * *

She is awakened by a beeping.  She reaches to the nightstand and hits the alarm.  The beeping persists.  She picks up the telephone.  The beeping continues.

She smells smoke.

She runs down the stairs and out the front door.  She stands barefoot in the snow watching her house burn down.  In the distance she hears the sirens.  The snow falls thickly around the house, melting into droplets that do little to stay the tongues of fire.

A blanket is wrapped around her shoulders.  She’s led to a pickup truck.  She watches her house burn to the ground.

The fire chief slides into the driver’s side.  “Can I call your family, ma’am?” 

She shakes her head.  Her father had distanced himself following the arrest.

“A friend, then?” 

“I have no friends.”  She gestures at the house.  “This was no accident.”

“A hotel.”

 “The bank froze the assets.”

The chief puts the truck in gear and drives down the center of unplowed streets.

* * *

He pulls up to a church.  A sign in the grass reads: Code Blue Shelter.

She’s pointed to a cot, handed a thin blanket. 

A woman one cot over smiles and breaks her sandwich in half.  “Hungry?”

“Starved.  Thank you.”

“You been on the streets long?  I don’t recognize you.”

Lilly smiles to herself.  At last, she is not her father’s daughter.  At last, she is not her husband’s wife.   “Not long.”

 “What’s your name?”

“Lilly.” 

“You got a last name?”

“Just Lilly.”  She likes the sound of her name untethered from her husband’s.  She feels lighter.  Freer.

The woman smiles.  “I understand.  Some things you have to keep to yourself.”  She looks through the window.  “Awful night out there, Just Lilly.  Coldest night on record.”

“But spring is just around the corner.”  And Lilly would live up to her own name in the spring, blooming and growing and stretching herself to meet the sun.

“Just Lilly, I like your style.”

And Lilly smiles, basking in her anonymity and the kindness of a stranger.
This was written in response to Story Dam’s prompt: The dead of winter.

Residual Anger

“You cannot mean to raise a child here.”  Patty’s mother took a sip of her wine and grimaced before swallowing hard.

“Why not?”  That wine was expensive—for Patty.

“It’s just not a…” her mother looked around the apartment.  “…safe environment.  Or particularly clean.  Are you certain there are no bedbugs?” 

“It’s fine.  For now.  Until I can get…”

“Get me a knife, Rose.  This roast is a brick.”

“I got it.”  Patty shoved out her chair and stomped to the kitchen.  It was a mistake, she knew now, to invite her parents to New York for the week.  She’d worked so hard to make everything perfect.  The wine and the roast she’d scrimped for.  The cake she’d made from scratch.  The tree she could ill-afford.  She handed her father the knife and sat.

“You should have thought about this before you got pregnant.”

“I think I’ve done a good job, Mom.”  In the five years since she’d dropped out of high school to have Ellen, Patty’d managed to get her GED, move to the city and get work at the college she was attending. 

“And that babysitter…” Rose began.

“Oh, yeah.”  Her father said.  “She’sa prize.”

“You just can’t do this, Patty.”

“I can.”

“Hiring people off the streets to tend to your illegitimate child.  Living in squalor.  Likely living from paycheck to paycheck.  You need to come home.”

“I’m fine.”

“We’ll adopt the child.”

“Her name is Ellen, Mom.”  Patty stood.  “And there’s no way you’ll raise my daughter.  You ruined one child.”

Rose put a hand to her chest.  Her eyes widened.  “We’re leaving.”  


And within fifteen minutes, they were, indeed, gone.  

* * *

After she got Ellen bathed and put to bed, Patty surveyed her apartment through the eyes of her parents.  The second-hand furniture looked dingy.  The paint was chipped.  The carpet was stained.  But it was hers.  All she wanted now was to be done with Christmas.  To remove every trace of her parents’ presence.

She removed the Christmas cards from the doorway.  She could smell her mother’s sweet perfume.  She unplugged the Christmas lights.  She could hear her father’s cautionary tales about fire hazards.  She took the candles from the window and unscrewed the bulbs.  She packed away the nativity scene, carefully wrapping each piece in newspaper before tucking it away for next year. 

“Mommy?” 

Patty looked up.  Ellen stood in the doorway.

“Yeah, baby?”  Patty stabbed out her cigarette.  She’d promised Ellen she’d give them up.

“What are you doing?”

Patty wiped the tears from her cheek.  “Just straightening up a bit.”

“It’s too soon.”

How to tell the child that she could no longer stand the sight of all these decorations; that they served to remind her of her failures, not her successes? She smiled.  “I thought we’d take care of it early, baby.  So we can go skating in the park tomorrow.  Try out those new skates of yours.”  The skates that her parents said were too dangerous.

 “OK, Mommy!”  A bright smile spread across her face.

Patty tucked her daughter back into bed and gave her one last sip of water. 

She returned to packing away the Christmas decorations.  But what to do with her residual anger; grown cold and stale, but still there, heavy and thick upon the air?

She will package them up, store them away.  She will put them right next to the nativity scene, carefully wrapped up in newspaper.

Next year, she will unpack them; polish them up and set them upon the mantle.

Because everyone knows that leftover anger is easily reheated.

The was written in response to a prompt from Story Dam:
Choose one direction or topic along the “leftovers” concept. It can be some additional weight gain from the holidays, a wanton shopping spree that will be showing on the next credit card bill… it can even be the pain-in-the-neck start of a New Year’s resolution. Once you have your topic, write a descriptive piece (fiction or non) in which your character is working through it. We’re shooting for realism this week, but be creative