In Her Wake

They fed each other cured walnuts she’d gathered from the woods last fall, breaking the hard exterior beneath the blows of a hammer stolen from her father’s toolbox and prying out their broken hearts with a pick.

Hand in hand, they walked the pristine lawn, dull blades of grass succumbing to their bare and tender feet. “Look.” He pointed.

She stopped and paused where the mower blades had scraped away the rough roots of the oak tree, two hundred years old, according to local lore, and struck by lightening twice. There was a gap in the trunk, where she used to secret her treasures: Notes from old boyfriends. A journal she needed to hide from her brother. Cash for the time she considered running away. Now, she stuck her hand in the gap and withdrew a plastic bag.

“What’s that?”

She turned and stuffed the bag in her pocket. “Nothing.” She stared at the roots of the tree, imagining the blades of the mower endlessly chasing after themselves, head over heels until they stumbled upon a knot of wood and choked and had to back up and take a new path.

“I love you,” he said.

She reached a hand in her pocket. Felt for the familiar bag, pressed her thumb against the shape, tracing the thin hollow circle again and again.

She had stumbled. “I love someone else.”

She turned and walked again towards home, leaving neatly trimmed blades of grass and a weeping root in her wake.

 

~

This was written for this week’s Studio30+ prompt.

 

 

Truths Untrue

Again, the children called for me to join them. “Come, Eva,” they urged, patting their dirty hands against my skin, pale and unfreckled.

“I cannot.” I shook my head to emphasize the point I had made every day, as if that would finally convince them of the truth of my words. But children, being children, are full of the possibilities inherent in impossibility.

Innocence is beauty. Continue reading

What Feels Wrong

We find the old man facedown on the beach. Thin legs, wrinkled and pale, stretch like twigs from the ends of his tattered pants. His shirt bunches around his shoulders.

“He wears the mark.” My companion points. My companion. My match.

Not my wife. Not my lover. Not even my best friend. Lucy was assigned to me by the king.

In third grade, just before we graduated, we sat at our wooden desks and took our final test. The teacher told us to respond to the questions honestly, that that no answer was wrong. We knew better. That morning, our parents had peppered us with answers. Correct answers. “You love routine,” my mother said, as she scrubbed behind my ears.

“Brussels sprouts,” my father whispered, glancing at the cameras before secreting a pinch of forbidden sugar into my gruel.

“Shakespeare.” My mother.

“No, the Bible,” my father corrected.

“Duty.”

“Respect.”

“Kingdom.” Continue reading

A Fiery Kind of Red

The weather has broken and the whole world seems to know about it. Kids disgorged from dirty school busses leap over puddles, whooping with joy. Billy Miller wears his hood over his head, but leaves the rest of the coat hanging behind him like a shadow. Kayla Driesden sports pink running shorts, her winter-bleached legs blending in with the snow piled on the sidewalk, so if you squint your eyes just so you can almost convince yourself that Kayla strides on invisible legs.

And here comes Stuart Mason now, just in time. He walks down the street, afternoon cup of decaf clutched in his hand. He sits on the peeling park bench, watching the kids, enjoying their sudden sunny moods. The air is full of a near-hilarity, brought on by the thirty-degree change in temperature. Now, the kids aren’t looking for snow days.

They want baseball.

Continue reading

Semi-Permanent State

Ida stands at the window, hands tucked into the back pockets of her Levi’s. “Look at those icicles.” She turns. Her husband hunches in his easy chair, neck curved. “Seventy-three of them, slippery sharp like a row of dragon’s teeth.”

Frank sighs and shoots what appears to be an obligatory glance through the glass before returning his attention to the phone in his hand, jabbing at the screen with a thickened index finger. A window of light reflects off each lens of his glasses.

“Not that I believe in dragons. Although I could deal with a bit of heat from a dragon’s mouth just about now, what with the deep freeze we’ve been living in for…how many months?” She extracts her right hand from her pocket and begins accounting for the time, laying out her thumb and settling November firmly upon it like an accusation. The remaining fingers are assigned their own month: “December…January…February…Four months. We been frozen up for four months.” Continue reading

Uncle Bruce

“What are you doing here?” Irene held her magnifying glass over the photograph.

“Who?” I leaned over my sister’s shoulder, trying to see.

“It’s hard to tell in this light, but…” She ran her fingers over the faces of our relatives, as if trying to read the history of their lives. “All these people. All these smiling people. Gone. And their stories with them, I’m afraid.”

“We can’t get every story down, Irene.” My sister the historian. Trying to gather the clues to her life from ancient history stored in attics, musty basements, even, in one case, beneath the bridge a homeless uncle once called home. “You spend too much time in the past, you forget about the future.”

She glowered at me. “I like the past.”

“Why?”

“I’m comfortable there.” Continue reading

Eden

“Eden’s bin trapping again.” Billy Burth stormed into the cabin, breathing heavily, his left hand grasping the latch.

Dink continued chopping tomatoes. He knew there’d be trouble as soon as he saw Billy stamping up the mountain path, fists clenched, face red. “Beer?”

Billy nodded and closed the cabin door. “You make this latch?”

“Suffolk latch. Made the hinges, too.” Dink grabbed two beers and a bottle opener. “Let me show you the back porch.” He slid open the glass door and stepped outside. The sun angled onto the porch, highlighting the grains of the wood Dink had reclaimed and restored. Billy ran a finger along a railing. “I never figgered you as a man to work with wood and iron.”

Continue reading

Fog

Lilla Mae and Holly kneel on the bench and stare out the window, their breath fogging two small circles upon the glass. Holly points. “I don’t like the look of those trees. They look like arms reaching out to grab us.”

Lilla Mae laughs. “Trees don’t grab people, silly.”
Holly shivers. “What does then?”
Lilla Mae studies Holly, this woman-child who seems so much older and wiser than a typical nine-year- old. She’s certainly more mature than Lilla Mae’s sister, who celebrated her tenth birthday just before Lilla Mae was brought here. “A good school,” her parents had reassured her, they in the front seat of their old car, she in the back, right in the middle so that she could lean her head forward and speak over the roar of the engine. “You’ll get a good education–better than you could ever hope to have in the village.”
“But…it must be expensive.”
Her father had looked at her in the rearview mirror then. “They gave you a scholarship, sweetie.”
And it’s this image that has remained with her: Her father’s eyes, reflected back to her, smiling yet a bit tentative. There was some emotion he’d held back. Something he was trying to hide.

“Draw us a picture, Lilla Mae,” Holly says now.
Lilla Mae shakes her head. “Last time I drew on the window Teacher smacked me.”
Holly frowns. “She not a real teacher.”
“I know.”
“Lilla Mae?” Holly turns and leans in a little.
“Yeah?”
“I don’t think any of these people here are real,” Holly whispers.
“Real teachers?”
“No,” Holly says. “I don’t think…Have you ever looked into their eyes?”
“I keep my head down, just the way they say.”
“Try looking at them next time. The janitor. The teachers. The cook. They’re all…not here.”
Lilla Mae feels a shiver tickle her spine. “Well where are they, then, if they’re not here?”
“It’s like…Like they’re…I don’t know, Lilla Mae. Have they ever touched you?”
“Yes.” Lilla Mae recalls Teacher’s hand grabbing her arm, yanking it from the window.
“What did it feel like?”
“Cold.” Lilla Mae shudders. “Sad. Lonely.”
“I’m afraid, Lilla Mae. I haven’t heard from my parents in eight months.”
“Not even a letter?”
“Did you get a letter?” Holly demands.
Lilla Mae shakes her head. “I think my parents forgot about me.”
“No,” Holly puts a hand on Lilla Mae’s arm. “I think they disappeared our parents.”
“Who? How?
“I don’t know. But…”
“What about the other kids? They can’t have…”
“They’re not here, either, Lilla Mae. They’re cold, too.”
Lilla Mae looks around the bedroom: two beds, neatly made. Two dressers. White shirts and blue slacks, neatly folded and tucked inside.
No pictures.
No toys.
No books.
“I think they want to make us cold, too, Lilla Mae.”
Lilla Mae looks again at the window, sees Holly’s gaze reflected back to her and just now she realizes the unidentified emotion she could not recognize in her father’s eyes.
Terror.
It was terror.
Lilla Mae raises her index finger to the glass, traces out the words carefully. “Help us,” she writes in the fog.
And Holly begins to cry.
This was written for this week’s Studio30plus prompt: The word was fog.

For Good

“Try it now,” Dink shouts from the roof where he’s just finished installing a dish swaddled in a flannel pillow case, of all things. Betty Lewis’s flannel pillowcase, to be exact. “To protect it,” Dink had said, by way of explanation, when he’d come through the door last last night bearing his apology.
Doreen shoves Frodo from her chair, the Victorian parlor chair with red velvet upholstery that she scored curbside fourteen years ago. She sits in the space vacated by Frodo and notes that it’s warm. “Well, at least you’re good for something,” she tells the dog, who circles around three times before curling up in a tight ball at her feet. Spring is here, but every so often, it decides, like her husband Dink, to skip town for a few days before settling in for good.
Doreen picks up the remote and aims it at the flat screen television, the second part of Dink’s apology, now hanging on the wall like a massive trophy.
“Anything?” Dink comes into the room, wiping his hands on the back of the Levi’s Doreen had found at the thrift store for three dollars a pair.
“Hold your horses,” she says, jabbing a button, shoving the remote towards the television, as if to give it a boost. She leans forward in her chair as the screen comes to life.
Magic fills the cabin: Lights and sounds and colors, the likes of which she had never before seen.
“Looky there!” Doreen points. A man from Ohio is announcing his candidacy for Congress, his wife and children arranged neatly behind him. “His face is full a’ wrinkles.” She frowns. “I ought to send him a jar of my wrinkle cream.”
Dink snorts and half-perches on the chewed-up armrest of Doreen’s chair.
For years, Doreen has refused to disclose the secret recipe for the wrinkle cream she sells for fifty cents a jar. The only information she’s ever shared, which seems rather self-evident, is that it involves copious amounts of horseradish.
Truth be told, Doreen’s wrinkle cream isn’t made for curing wrinkles: Dink can’t stand the smell of horseradish. He goes so far as to claim to be allergic. Doreen sells only to the women in whom she suspects Dink may have some future interest. Old Macy Jones who still, at ninety-five, walks two miles a day? Not a threat.
Last week, after climbing the mountain to reach the cabin; after being shown to Doreen’s Victorian parlor chair; after sitting and breathing heavily and drinking two glasses of iced tea, Macy Jones headed down the mountain with a small jar of repackaged Oil of Olay and the instructions to apply as often as she could stand it, those directions, of course, being the directions that accompany the real wrinkle cream.
“Them wrinkles’ll disappear in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,” Doreen had promised Macy.
“That man’s jest saying the same thing over and over again,” Dink says now.
Doreen points the remote at the television and changes the station. She enjoys this feeling of so much power contained in a small rectangular box. “Oh my Lord,” she says. “I heard about this in town yesterday.”
“Heard about what?”
“That gal’s purse. Crocodile skin. Twenty-four thousand dollars. Hell’s bells, what will they think of next.”
“That ain’t croc. It’s alligator.”
“How do you know?” Doreen turns to glare at her husband.
“The man on the television just said.” Dink points.
She shrugs. “Same thing. All alligators are crocodiles.”
Dink laughs. “That’s like saying all squares are rectangles.” He shakes his head. “Why would they put two labels on one thing?”
“Hush yourself,” Doreen says. “I’m trying to watch this.”
Dink stands.
“Where you going?”
“Get me a chair from the kitchen.”
He returns in a moment, two cans of Coke tucked beneath his arm, a folding chair in his left hand. He hands Doreen a can and sets up his chair. He sits beside her, opens his drink and takes her hand.
She smiles and changes the channel.
Perhaps Dink has finally settled in for good.
Doreen spots the flannel pillowcase on the floor. She makes a mental note to cancel shipment of Betty’s order for wrinkle cream and send instead the recipe for moonshine she’s been after for years.

This was written for this week’s Studio 30+ prompt. The word was crocodile.