Friday, November 10, 2017

2 Minutes. Go!

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON'T IDENTIFY AS 'WRITERS' - all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the 'comments' section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds ... no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send 'em here to read your 'two' and encourage them to play.


“Do you think the dead speak to us?”

Her head was canted to one side. Eyes colored with that film some old folks get. Her hair was white and thin … she had the smell, too. That dusty tooth-decay smell that seems like it’s surrounding you as soon as you get close to it. The question shook me a little. That’s all I’m saying. I don’t get shook too easy, but it was the way she said it – slow, calm – too slow, too calm.

“I don’t know if I ever thought about it … er … no?”

She smashed her fist onto the table with surprising force. It made the egg cups dance for a second. Knocked my juice glass onto the floor, but it didn’t break. Jelly jars are built for rough living. It didn’t even spill because I’d finished the juice first like I always do.

“What the hell kind of answer is that, boy? You don’t sound sure at all, but you’re sure sounding like it’s sure. How do you know?”

I wanted nothing more than to get up and walk out of the kitchen, past the green stove and the green fridge, straight out into the green yard where I knew Bullet would be waiting. But I was stuck.

“Well, I ain’t never heard no dead person talking to me.”

“You ever seen God, boy? Nope. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. You like to fish? How come you go fishing if you’re not sure that there are fish in the water?”

“But I am sure that there are fish in the water.”

“You catch a fish the first time you went? ‘Cause I remember you coming home with your Deddy. Crying. For a while. Saying there weren’t no fish to be caught.”

“It takes some time to learn.”

“But you’re prepared to tell me that the dead can’t talk after eleven long years on this planet?”

“Jeez, Gram. What are you so fired up about? I didn’t do nothing but sit down to eat breakfast.”

She looked shamed then. Or scared. Truth was, she looked like she was waiting to get punched in the face. That shook me, too. And, like I said, I’m usually pretty steady.

“I heard your Deddy last night. I wasn’t asleep. Maybe not all the way awake. You know that place right between the two? The one where if you wake up, your heart’s pounding and you can’t hardly fall back asleep?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, I heard him. He said, ‘It’s OK, Mama. Wasn’t your fault.’”

“Well…”

“Well what? I never did nothing to that boy. Why’s he coming to me in the middle of the night telling me not to worry?”

“Gram, you might have imagined it. It might have been a dream. Hell, maybe it was him. Maybe they let you get drunk in heaven, and he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”

She got that look again. Like she was mad. Like she was going to reach for something to swing at me. Then the whole table flipped. I swear I didn’t touch it, and Gram wouldn’t have had the strength, but it knocked her over. Twisted her.

She lasted a few months after that. Never was the same. She got weak. Then, she died. And you’re not going to believe me, and I don’t expect you to believe me. But the truth is the truth.

The night she died, when I was lounging in that small place between awake and asleep, trying to figure out how I felt about the whole thing, I heard his voice. And he wasn’t drunk one bit.

“It’s OK, son. Wasn’t your fault.”

#2minutesgo Tweet it! Share it! Shout it from the top of the shack you live in! I will be out most of the day, but I'll be back...

102 comments:

  1. That, Dan, was beautiful and terrifying... and the dialogue rings in my head. You got the voice right, you got the words right, and I'd recommend lighting a candle for Daddy.

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    1. I felt like I was there. I'm with Leland here.

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    2. Oh, yeah. And this: "Jelly jars are built for rough living."

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    3. Amazing stuff.Perfectly taut in the telling. Go, you!

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    4. Yeah, one of those taut (thanks, Teresa) tales leading to an ending that in hindsight we feel we should have guessed, but your mastery played us like a fish on a line! Again, voice is crucial, and you nailed it.

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  2. It was only a drop of blood, on her finger, from a thorn on the roses. She stared at it as it grew to a tiny sphere.

    The rose was from her garden. Shed planted it when she was young. Red. Like the drop of blood.

    The garden was her refuge now from a world she no longer understood. A world in which everyone carried a phone, but no one answered. And no one called.

    Her friends were all dead now. One by one like frightened sparrows they’d flown from the earth. Sometimes she forgot, and would start to dial a phone number.

    Children. She should have had children. But that hadn’t been in the plans, either her own or the universe's. Or Robert's.

    Dear, sweet Robert. Soldier first, husband second. They’d married just before he was deployed. She waited for him to return. Then waited for news of his death when the letters stopped. They didn’t find his body till years later. Presumed dead became killed in action, and her waiting ended.

    She stood at the sink, with the rose nearby, and she wept. When she wiped her tears, the drop of blood smeared across her face.

    And no one noticed.

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    1. Beautiful and resonant right now. Thank you, Leland.

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    2. Thank you, for the kind words, and for taking time to read and comment!

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    3. It is lovely. And I didn't notice a typo. Too caught up in the story. And, this is just odd, but a student wrote a story in class today about a garden and a pricked finger and a drop of blood - different theme and narrative of course, but collective unconscious?

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    4. Thanks! It might be collective unconscious... or maybe there's just been a lot of pricks in the news lately...

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    5. In a way, it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. The roses, the thorn, the loneliness.

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    6. I honestly think we do tap into some kind of collective unconscious thing here. I haven't read any others yet, but these first two and mine all feature elderly women. And this is exquisite, and I got tears at that ending.

      (Ha ha, Leland. I loved your comment almost as much as your story, lol!)

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  3. I was seventeen that summer, that summer when I found and lost my innocence. He was my brother’s best friend.

    They’d gone through boot camp together, and being an orphan, he came to our farm on leave when they graduated. How handsome they both

    were when we picked them up from where the bus dropped them off. There was no bus depot in our little town, the Greyhound bus stopped in front of the drugstore, which was also a soda fountain.

    My brother sat in front, with my mother. I sat in back with Monty. Daddy was working in the fields that day.

    Monty. Who even has a name like that? I found out later his last name was Montgomery, and Monty was a nickname. But that afternoon, all I could do was stare and stutter. When he smiled, I blushed. When I looked into his eyes, when I finally dared, I was lost.

    My brother and he were telling stories of their training, and they made my mother laugh. I didn’t even hear the words. I heard my heart beating fast in my ears, like thunder.

    By the time we got home to the farm, I was no longer coherent. When we got home to the farm, I was the last one out of the car. Adolescent hormones cause embarrassing reactions when you’re seventeen.

    I carried their bags into the house, into the bedroom we three would be sharing in the old farmhouse. I couldn’t let myself think of that.

    "Why don’t you show me around, while your mom and brother get caught up?"

    I nodded and blurted "Sure!"

    With just the two of us, I found my voice again. I gave him the grand tour. The garden. The windmill that lightning had struck earlier that year. The chicken coop. The corral with the horses.

    And the barn. I can still remember the smell of hay from that summer, with the pungent smell of horseshit, and the light and shadows of that summer day, shining into the barn.

    And I remember the touch of his hand in the small of my back, through my gingham shirt, and turning around to see what he wanted, and the kiss that started off gentle and worked its way up to fierce.

    My first kiss, except from my mom and my grandma and my aunts.

    Some people tell you they hear violins when they kiss the first time, but I heard angels singing, and I heard laughter, and felt the universe explode. His hands held my face, and my hands found his back pockets.

    The kiss might have gone on longer if the horses hadn’t snickered, demanding their food, or maybe they were laughing at human romantic conventions. We broke apart, at least our lips did, and stared into perfection.

    The sound of breathing filled the barn; the horses' breaths and our own. Somehow our hands found their way together, and they fit together well.

    "Maybe later we can finish the tour and show me the hayloft?"

    "I think I’d like that."

    "I think the horses are hungry."

    And he was right.

    And now, all these years later, I remember every hour of every day that week, even as I stare at the photograph of his name, right beside my brother's, etched on a wall in a city I’ll never see.

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    1. Somehow you can do romance without making it too sweet. Just sweet enough. Beautiful. Love to hate the twist at the end.

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    2. Thanks... that's high praise indeed!

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    3. Damn, I was going to say what Erin said. No sentimentality. Just real. "Monty. Who even has a name like that?" - So good. But the line that gutted me: "With just the two of us, I found my voice again."

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    4. Wow, Leland. Lots of mind running on those tracks this week. Beautifully done!

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    5. What everyone else said. Also, a reference to Montgomery Clift? What a tragic guy.

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  4. You just don't know. You think you know. You can picture my life. My dad's life. The life of an idiot that travels to some unknown place to help people who may or may not want your help. You sing the songs and thank us and say you're grateful, but you don't know.

    These holidays that celebrate me and mine? I fuckin' hate 'em. Every year at least two reminders of what my people and I went through, survived. Yeah. That's it. We survived it. But my dreams are still there. My blood, my buddies, my victims, my victories, they're all back there. I wonder sometimes if that's where I'll go when I die. Will I be in an eternal war?

    But that's not what I was talking about. Don't think I've forgotten, boy. What was I talking about? The holidays. The days where we remember. Like I need a day set aside to remember. I remember every fuckin' day. It takes all I've got to keep upright when someone bangs a pan or when fireworks go off. But we need to remember. My God, what a fuckin' farce.

    You think you got what it takes, though? Right? That's what you're tellin' me? You're stronger than me. You're braver than your Grandpa. You need to serve your country and keep all us ungrateful assholes free? Huh? Do you? Is that what you think? Well, fine. Go on. See how that works out for you. I'll be here when your broken, mangled body and your broken, messed up mind come back from hell. We'll see just how well you do, boy.

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    1. Ah, the blessing and the curse of seeing one off to war... this is honest and brutal.

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    2. Damn. Mad power in this one. And the voice is super strong.

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    3. Worth the reminder that war really is hell.Well done!

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    4. One of the people who works in the kitchen at the restaurant I wirk for was having a hard day yesterday. She's sweet, tough woman , and she got in my head...

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    5. Yes, I hate to be so repetitive, but the real heft of this piece is the voice. Excellent and timely. Brava!

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  5. I watch her, fading into oblivion and it makes me sad, but it also makes me want to shake her. This didn't have to be her life. She didn't have to fade away. All she had to do was try.

    I open my mouth to say that, to shout it, but I suck in some air and close them again. I can tell her whatever I want but she won't listen. She has to help herself. She has to want things to get better. She has to work at it. And so it goes. I watch her become a shadow of herself. Just like her mother. Just like her grandmother. And just like they did, just like she did, I wish I could do or say something to stop the tragedy of a life lived in misery.

    But I can't. I can be supportive. I can call. I can try to make her laugh. I can push. But I can't make her be happy. No one can. Except her.

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    1. This really hit home for me... sometimes we do the best we can to help, and then have to realize that we can't be the decision-maker for anyone but ourselves. And I'm really glad there are supportive people out there.

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    2. Yup. Me too. I love stories like this because everyone who reads this will get gut punched in a different place. Reminded me of a friend who's a junkie now. He never listened.

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    3. Yeah, the underlying pain of this is pitch perfect. No histrionics, just a simple understated truth.

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  6. It not them. Proofreading isn't just for suckers.

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  7. The storm came and we weathered it. But we knew there would be more storms.

    And there were. It's how we lived.

    Some of our children made a show where they used shadows to tell a story. Silhouette horses rearing against salmon skies. Hands reaching to clasp other hands. Hummingbirds and leaping fish. I sat and watched their shows and cried each time without shame.

    But they—the others, not the children—sought our shame, pursued it with their ghost hounds: bible verses, uniforms, corrective lenses unsolicited, soap inside our mouths or worse, fingers in our pants, worse, the eradication of our language, the cultivation of our unwanted chastening. They enclosed us in brick, touched our secret places, and claimed we'd asked them to. Insisted on our gratitude and compliance then made of that compliance a defense, a vindication. They were sly, shrouding their dark urges with blame, concealing their culpability inside deviant retellings.

    That dark is still deep and lonely, but there are shafts of light now.

    The baritone tattoo of a hundred hooves on pliant grassland, hollow and dogged and fierce, the sudden calliope of pollen burst afar and spiraling, bone ridge fingers through chainlink seeking a home, palpating the unquiet hearts of a thousand surplus tales.

    Suicide is water. It cools your hurt and finds the channels, drains the great wild weighty hope of a fearsome distant peak to some quiet nearby delta. It is female. Yet it isn't. Because female is strong, not weak. We've forgotten how to think about this. Forgotten that woman is robust, that love itself is sturdy. That fierce is good and ironclad severity not so much. The human spine will twist and flex and carry monstrous burdens. Yet an iron rod encumbered incrementally will ultimately break. Suicide is neither female nor male, neither weak nor strong. We think in polarities. Suicide is the water on the lip of the falls, a precipice in our thoughts, propelled by doubt and certitude. Doubt we can go on, and certainty we're ruined. On such fulcrums, where the present balances the past and the future, bury our hearts and cry hoarse and wounded and brave enough to waken hope across all this great Turtle Island.

    Cry for me. Grieve. Then honor me, revere me. And all my relations.

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    1. Beautiful and timely... the lines I keep re-reading: "Suicide is water. It cools your hurt and finds the channels, drains the great wild weighty hope of a fearsome distant peak to some quiet nearby delta." Thank you for this.

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    2. This is beautiful and heart-wrenching and honest.

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    3. I've figured it out. I love the way you write, but I love the way you don't write, too. Especially when it's structured like this. It's like there are little stories in the line breaks. Like people say about jazz and the notes not played. I know jack shit about jazz, but I know a little about writing and that's something brother.

      And ditto Leland and Erin. R&B

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    4. Oh, man. So beautiful. The words, the rhythm. "Suicide is water..." That whole paragraph made my heart vibrate.

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    5. Fascinating. You've captured a voice not your own, but it is,too. Nice job!

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    6. R&B, and I love youse all.

      Dan, the jazz thing. I hadn't thought about it, and like you I don't have a deep knowledge of the form, outside of Miles and Coltrane, but I get that. Weird melodies going off in unexpected directions yet returning to some kind of theme. That makes sense. Thanks, brother, you got me thinking.

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    7. (I was a little worried about this one because of that whole cultural appropriation conversation, and it's a relief not to be called on it, but this ultra liberal still worries about that stuff. I'll go tie some tobacco to a tree out in the bush or go talk to an elder at the Indian Friendship Centre. Not even kidding.)

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. It's corrosive, like acid. Sitting in my chest. I lay in bed and stare at the door, but it hurts. This place won't talk, and it doesn't want to listen. A new wrinkle has formed. For now, days blend together. Even the fun and different things blend together. Nothing excites me, it only makes me anxious. I feel stuck in this place, this is a point in my life when I should be growing, but I'm stuck. I don't understand this pain. For as long it's been with me, and for how much I ponder it, I don't understand it. I wish I knew what it was like to feel normal, I wish I wasn't who I am. The sad and desperate current has been sweetened.

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    1. ah, the pain is palpable and well-written. Isn't it interesting how we hunger for so-called normalcy, but those that we love and admire are anything but normal? Thanks for sharing this.

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    2. I love that last line. And "This place won't talk, and it doesn't want to listen." I can so relate to this feeling. And wonder what it is like to feel normal when I know 'normalcy' doesn't exist? We wonder why we wonder what it's like to be other people, so we write. I digress. This is a timeless, resonant glimpse into humanity. And Leland's right, well written. Glad you're back.

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    3. Leland and Dan's observations are interesting. you guys been taking philosophy classes or something? lol And yeah, resonant is the perfect word here.

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  10. Sweeping

    It slides and it
    Slips
    This thing by the wayside,
    This sliver
    Of a lie
    Speckled with dust;
    A shimmer of an age
    Fast vanishing into air

    Spring steps out
    With a sigh
    Upon a blackbird
    Cast adrift in a
    Faint blue sky,
    While all else ends in
    A crimson-coloured red

    These times are made
    For changing,
    This life by the wayside
    Cast in dust,
    Clothes worn too long;
    Fragile bones ache
    In this rigid earth
    Discoloured and dank.

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    1. ah, so good to read your words again!

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    2. Thanks. I was getting ready to go out and the first lines came into my head. Will pop back in tomorrow, so then I can read your words too :) Happy Friday dude :)

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    3. Yay! You're back. Man, those last two lines. And:

      A shimmer of an age
      Fast vanishing into air

      Just beautiful weaving of words.

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    4. Aside from everything the others said, I love how the word slips has its own line, almost as if its so slippery it can't be corralled. Also its many echoes, such as times a-changing.

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  11. Pressure

    The biggest lies we tell ourselves,
    Shrinking our souls into endless shapes,
    Fitting, squeezing, depriving them of air,
    Fearing to step outside these strict lines

    Boundaries, fences, walls, cages,
    The constrictions we construct within,
    Conflicts of our own making undone
    For we feel lost without them

    Built to protect
    Built to last
    Built to tighten
    Built to stifle

    Freedom lies beyond our fears,
    So they tell us, so we know, yet
    Under pressure we still struggle,
    Sinking beneath the feeble self

    Step outside where the crow cries,
    Walk between the shadows crept,
    Where the sky yawns possibilities
    And towers tumble to the ground.

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    1. ah, these words speak truth... and I can almost hear the crow crying! GET OUTSIDE! Experience life!

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    2. Well, this one is straight from my old, jaded heart. This one's personal. And I had to get it out. But we've all been here.

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    3. Wow, I love the whole things, but that last stanza - JESUS lady. That's so fucking deadly.

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    4. Cheers dude :) I like that you guys get my poems. These brain dribbles!!

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    5. Great to see your stuff here, Vickie. Aside from what those guys said, I also love the internal rhyme and assonance and whatever other poetic terms are appropriate of:

      "The constrictions we construct within,
      Conflicts of our own making undone"

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  12. I saw her, though I am not sure how, and it seemed she could not see me. She was playing on an old linoleum floor, with a black and white dog nearby.

    She was folding squares of brightly folded paper. Origami. It made sense. She looked Oriental, probably Japanese. I looked closer. She was making little paper cranes.

    She was young. A child. Perhaps five? But there was a beauty there. Not only external beauty, but a sort of glow that emanates from those filled with love.

    The dog sensed me, but I don’t think he could see me, either. He sniffed at the air in my direction, and tilted his head as if trying to make sense of it, of me.

    She finished a bird, this one made of gold foil. Each crease was perfect. It looked alive, even in its angularity. As she began another, the golden crane righted itself and used its paper wings to take flight. Neither the girl nor the dog took note of it, but the thing was flying directly toward me.

    I resisted the urge to duck, and it landed on my shoulder. I could only see it out of the corner of my eye.

    Just as I reached my hand to touch it, it whispered, "Don’t. I mean you no harm."

    I let my hand fall to my side.

    I should have been startled, but I wasn’t.

    "Do you know who she is?" it whispered.

    I shook my head.

    "It is your grandmother."

    I looked at the girl again. She did seem familiar. I vaguely remembered pictures of her as a child.

    "There are things she wants you to know, but they are difficult for her to say."

    This much was true. My grandmother was strong yet silent. She was a listener, not a talker.

    "Do you recognize the dog?"

    I shook my head again.

    "A very special dog. Her name is Moon. She is the reason your grandmother survived."
    I wanted to ask what she survived, but I couldn’t speak when I tried.

    "You will learn, if you are willing to listen."

    I nodded.

    "Excellent. Let us begin."

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    1. Okay, Leland bring on the rest of it! I want more!

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    2. You'll have to wait... this is an experiment with a rewrite of a book I've been working on for about five years... think it works?

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    3. Totally works. I agree. Want more. :)

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  13. Geez, you guys, if you like it, MAKE me finish this one tomorrow I've been coaching Nano writers all day and am spent. But There IS more to come!

    My brother from another other
    I’ve mentioned before that our parents’ secrets had a way of coming out, and so it happened that History itself sprang a most unexpected leak when I was in the ninth grade.
    Jimmy Paul was the new kid. He’d moved up from Chicago, sometime in November. Sister Seraphica informed us at our Welcome Assembly and she hoped we would take him to our hearts. Well, it certainly wasn’t going to be a problem in my case. Not only was he new, which was more than enough enough in my book, Jimmy was about the handsomest boy I’d ever seen. He had green, catlike eyes, curly hair, a tawny sort of complexion and even, white teeth when you got to see them, even though he rarely smiled. He was on the short side, though, with broad shoulders and more muscle than you’d believe on a 14 year old.
    I suppose the other girls were as impressed as I was, and maybe I wasn’t as pretty as some, but I was certainly quicker. All the boys I’d seen growing up had a curious familiarity and if that is the thing that truly breeds contempt, it was certainly true in my case. And so, with all the odd, narcissistic fixation of any teenaged girl, I had him staked out for mine inside of twenty minutes. I did pretty well, too. During lunch, I sat with him and asked him all about himself. His parents were divorced and he had a little sister and he played guitar. But none of that tiresome folksy stuff, though he did like rock. But mostly he loved classical guitar. Hi fingers always moved when he talked about music; he had beautiful hands and a soft voice that made you lean closer to hear him, and I think the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen on another human being. And by the time that lunch was over, I’d invited him over after school and told him to bring his guitar, aching for my first real kiss. The magazines all said a girl was supposed to play hard to get, but it was never my thing, especially when a guy like Jimmy Paul shows up and all of a sudden it’s like a hot knife through butter. And if the good sisters could have seen the inside of my imagination that afternoon, detention would have been the least of it.
    Maybe for him, too, I guess. Because he grabbed my hand in one of his on the way to my house, while he carried his guitar case in the other. It was getting dark earlier now, but our porch swing still rocked, and it was still warm, and I figured that first real kiss was definitely in the bag.
    But it wasn’t going to happen. Not that day or ever once. Because, when I brought Jimmy Paul up on my front porch, my mother came to the screen door, looked at my soon to be new boyfriend, then screamed and fainted dead away.
    Now, my mom may have been a lot of things but she was hardly a fainter. So me and Jimmy helped her sit up and she fluttered here yes and apologized profusely, as a lady should. “Please,” she said. “Don’t think a thing about it. Diet pills or something. Jimmy is it? Jimmy, “ she said as she got to her feet. “Won’t you have a beverage? 7up? Juice or something? Honey, where are your manners?” She shot me a disapproving look, as though I had just messed up the social protocol by passing out on the front doorstep.
    I looked at Jimmy, utterly mortified. “Something?” I squeaked.
    He hid a grin. “ Better get home” He said. “Mom’ll be waiting and I gotta catch the bus.”
    I grasped his hand before he left, even as Mom switched on the porch light. “Jimmy?” she called as he headed down the path. “By any chance, do you have an Aunt Helen?”
    The question stopped him in his tracks. He turned around, bangin my knee with his guitar case. “Yes Ma’am! Yes I do!”
    “Next time you talk to her, tell her Gidge say Hi, okay? Tell her you saw Virginia. And that she said hi, okay?”
    Me and Jimmy Paul looked at each other, bewildered. “’Course, “ he told her, and disappeared into the night

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    1. Don't make me beg! Tell the rest of the story!

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    2. Once again what started out to be a flash piece suddenly went on steroids. But here's another installment Leland, just for you. Maybe I'll even finish the darned thing today!

      I found Mom in the kitchen, staring into her coffee cup like she was trying to tell her own fortune. She didn’t, wouldn’t, look up.
      “You don’t take diet pills.” I said, and pulled up a chair. It made her smile. She shook her head as if to clear it, and took a deep breath.
      “That boy, looks just like him. His father, I mean. I wouldn’t have believed it. “
      This was news. “So. You knew Jimmy’s Dad?”
      That breath came out, all at once.” Actually, I was engaged to him. During the war. For almost five years.”
      I didn’t know what to make of it, so I sat there, letting the thought roll around in my head, looking for a place to land. Feeling foolish, I somehow managed to respond. “So. Like mother, like daughter? Or something? He’s pretty good-looking, but he didn’t make me faint or anything.”
      When she looked at me again, her eyes were sad, more than that. Haunted. Like she really had seen a ghost. “Henry, we all called him Hank was Helen’s brother. Helen was my college roommate. It was kind of a wild time. Maybe it was the war or maybe it was just being so young. I don’t know. It’s easy to be braver when you think the whole world’s coming apart, you know?”
      I didn’t, actually. But I would learn.
      “Hank was the bravest man I ever knew. A real daredevil. Like he had a highwire in his head that he was walking all the time. He was a paratrooper in France, crazy brave. Sometimes we’d go for months, thinking he’d wasn’t going to make it out alive, never hearing anything. And Helen and I would hang on to each other and cry like babies. And then we’d get a letter or a postcard or something and just go crazy.” Mom stood up and put her cup in the sink and turned back around, her arms crossed over her chest. “It went on like that. It went on like that for a long time.”
      “What happened?”
      You could see her searching for some explanation and not find any, she looked at me again. “The war ended and Hank came home. But he was—changed. Everybody was. Most of us just wanted to get back to normal, you know? And there were so many veterans. Men gone blind and deaf, they came home without arms and legs; and scars that made you look away. They did the best they could for them, I guess. But not Hank. He’d had scars, too. But you couldn’t see them. So nobody helped. He started drinking hard, real hard for one thing. And then one day, in the summer, a whole gang of us went up to the lake. Hank was drunk and wanted to dance, but I didn’t. So he pulled me to my feet and slapped me, hard. Then he smiled and did it again.I ran away and into the water, but I wasn’t any match for him
      “The other guys were trying to pull him off me. But he got his hands around my throat.”
      She touched her neck and coughed. Just once. “Another breath. Anyway, he tried to kill me that night. And I never saw him again.”

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    3. You're a cruel one... leaving me to hang yet again! HURRY DAMMIT. I want the rest!

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    4. Leland, done, but not.Will pm you. But here's another excerpt from the memoir in Progress. you might like.

      On a homework assignment, one evening after dinner, I asked my father what he had done in the war. He squinted his bright blue eyes through the haloed smoke of a Pall Mall and said, quite sincerely:
      “I started it.”
      I looked at him, thinking this the beginning of one of his jokes. But something in his eyes said he wasn’t kidding.
      ”You did not.”
      My mother was washing dishes in the kitchen. For a moment, the water went silent as she listened for his answer. “Charles, “she said, and that was all. The rest of her warning hung in the air, unspoken.
      “I did, though, “he went on, answering her rather than me. “See, I knew the only way I was ever going to get off my Daddy’s farm was if somebody started a war. So me and a whole bunch of other boys just like me got down on our knees every night and prayed to God to send us one. And God answered us, all right. I’ve been careful what I pray for ever since.”
      I heard my mother exhale before the water ran again.
      “But what did you do?” I insisted. “In the war, I mean…”
      He shook his head and smiled a little. I could see in his face that he was tempted to tell another of his stories. But his eyes drifted away, grew distant, focused on some memory I couldn’t see.
      “Baby, “he said after a moment. “I wasn’t anything in the war. Just another dumb kid off the farm.”

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    5. That's enthralling... and beautiful...

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    6. I'm with Leland. You got me.

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  14. More of those character intros, since I seem to have missed last week...

    He was swarthy, between his dark clothes and his dark, brooding face. He was big enough to hire out as a guard, but one never saw him working, unless you counted the pint he held in one large hand. That he worked on often enough to be a regular face in the tavern. The barkeep had been leery of him at first as he was so large and dangerous looking, but time had put the man at ease. This man came into tavern regularly, paid for his ale and food in good coin, and never tried to bust the place up. He laughed heartily when there was a joke going around, but even then he looked like he might take a bite out of someone if they got too close.

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    1. Agreed. This is an interesting character.

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  15. He looked like he'd be a smarmy sort, but once you got him talking he was quite intelligent. From his hat to his spats he was uncommonly clean and very well put together for a showman. He would flip cards or coins for your amusement, daring you without saying so to figure out how he had done it. Just watch his eyes, though. He knows with a flick and a shimmer who he can con and who he cannot. The man was a sharp, sure as I'm telling you about him.

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    1. I like the twist of the voice in the last line, and another interesting character for sure. I'm a sucker for a con.

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  16. A roar rose from the back room, as if someone had poked a lion with a spear. Patrons scattered like roaches in the light if they knew what was good for them; if not, they were in for an education.

    The bar man rolled his eyes with a heavy sigh, motioning for the women who served in his place to get behind the bar or go into the kitchen. He knew what was coming. So did his people. His two cleaning boys raced to pull chairs and shift tables to clear a path to the front door.

    A huge man burst into the taproom from the back, a hammer the size of a log held tightly in one hand. The northerner was decked out in furs, making it difficult to see the man beneath it all. Like a mountain he stomped into the taproom, his eyes glued to the street door. Another roar rumbled up from inside the man, pouring forth to ring the ears.

    "That bastard lays a hand on my daughter and I'll grind 'im up for pie!"

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  17. His stature among his people had little to do with his height. they would brush against him in passing, children reaching to touch him, but drawing back out of respect or fear. His cap was the red of fresh blood, constantly soaked, without having to dip it into the blood of his slain foes. It was not a common thing, but his power was such that his cap stayed wet. The scowl that rode his face added to his mystique. It never changed, with a single exception: it softened when he looked at his daughter.

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    1. Ah, I like that last line a lot... the contrast that makes the character three-dimensional!

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  18. Shaking crumbs from his beard, the stout man rose from table to reach for his axe. The noises outside were steadily growing louder, interrupting his supper and his digestion. It never failed that some idiotic civil unrest would spring up when an adventuring mercenary came to town. It was as if his very presence made people say things they might not otherwise and spark off the political tinder laying in the streets of the town. All he wanted was a decent meal and a bed that was relatively clean.

    Glass shattered outside, accompanied by a woman's shrill scream. That was his last straw. He moved to the doorway, and with a roar, stepped out into the fray.

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  19. He's a skinny kid, as I recall, with that long-assed hair, a drawling voice and laid back attitude. Of course, it was just a cover. You shoulda seen him at the football games, the local ones. There was a passion in that boy, lemme tell ya. A fire that raged with no real outlet He was raised better than that, I guess. He wouldn't strike out at a dog for growling, or at a baby for crying. Kept it all bottled up inside until someone poked him with the wrong stick.

    No wonder he had been such a pot head.

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  20. It wasn't some prosaic altruism that kept her in that seat. People were dumb dirty animals and she got to experience, at whatever remove, just what kinds of things they could come up with damage, torture, kill one another. It wasn't a paycheck that kept her there, listening to women scream and children cry and men gasp in fear. She really wasn't sure what was at the heart of her seeming obsession with her job. A line buzzed making her heart speed up a bit. Another call coming in, another disaster of some personal proportions, another rush of energy.

    Maybe she was just a psychic vampire with a need to feed...

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  21. Leaf dappled shadows played across her fair face and dark hair. Her bow raised slowly, so slowly, arrow nocked and ready. Her target stood out in the clearing, oblivious to the swift death that hung steadily form her fingers, it's shaft pointed at his heart.She longed to take the shot, but was waiting for the signal, for the moment to be perfect.

    The bird call came, though not the one she expected. With a fire of frustration in her eye, she lowered the deadly arrow. Tension slid out of the bow as she relaxed it; tension that slid up her arms and into her heart.

    Hunger gnawed at her belly as the stag walked away.

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  22. Not many men were as furry as the hides they wore, but this barbarian seemed to prefer the animistic seeming, even braiding bone and strips of brightly colored linen into bits of his beard. It battle he had proven to be more intimidating that a knight in shining armor. Off the field, he showed more chivalry than many of those same knights. A creature of the Celts, he was proud of such a background, disdaining the trappings of his supposed superiors. He drank from a wooden cup and ate with his fingers and a knife. Jewels and forks be damned!

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    1. I think I dated him once ... this one is very cool. I'd read more about him.

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  23. Her hair and skin had browned to the same shade in the heat of her home. Her eyes had accustomed themselves to the flickering shadows and lights here, taking on a cast of the flame.

    She swirled before her obsidian mirror, delighting in the colors she wore: red and gold, soft brown and yellow, orange to put fall leaves to shame. The cloth floated around her, thin and silken, until it looked as if she were wreathed in flame.

    Oh, yes, being giant kin was a blessing!

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  24. dizzy lights spin the dance floor blue
    you are the sound of heartbreak

    beneath parapets and subtle puppets
    truth hides in river pockets

    sullen

    you are a prince, a true villian

    light by chance, and dark by night
    shaking in the corner, tweaking
    i can see your jaw work, talking
    the dreams of back alley dentists

    reckoning

    dead corpse smell and rosemary
    honeysuckle epiphany, wanton
    sick, your thoughts will twist you
    hopeless, it's been written all over you

    it's in your permanent record

    scratched

    i don't write poetry for just this reason

    if makes me feel like i'm outside with no pants on

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    1. you hooked me in with the pairing of parapets and puppets, and then I loved the sensory descriptions... honeysuckle epiphany... so many contrasts, like a good sweet and sour Chinese dish.

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    2. Talking the dreams of bacK alley dentists? Hot damn! I know that feeling, outside with no pants. But you do it well. Nobody minds looking!

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  25. He fell in love with the stars that night, the night the moon was new. The flashlight's batteries were dead, and he’d forgotten to pack matches or a lighter. The can of beans was cold fare to eat, but he ate anyway. The sun set while he was washing his spoon in the creek, and filling his water bottle.

    He heard the mourning doves some distance away as the sky darkened from an improbable orange to the midnight blue he used to have in his box of crayons.
    First the planets appeared...Shimmering Venus, once known as Lucifer. Mars, as red as a god of war should be. That might be Jupiter, or maybe Saturn. Then one by one, heaven's tiny lanterns bloomed into view.

    He remembered some of their names, in constellations. Orion. Sirius. Cassiopeia. He even remembered some of their stories.

    That night, that autumn night, he watched the sky revolve around the North Star, and he forgot to go to sleep.

    He fumbled in his backpack, for the bottle he knew was there. He took a swig as the eastern sky began to light.

    "This one's for you, Grandpa, and all you tried to show me."

    The sun rose. He picked up his backpack. And he walked back toward the highway, still in love with the stars.

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    1. Really, really love this one. For all the usual reasons, but there's something hypnotic in the rhythm here.

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  26. You want to be a writer, eh? Tell me, how much of life have you lived? Have you planned the killing of someone? Fallen in love? Gone hungry because you quit a job on principle?

    Have you slept under the stars because you spent your last dollar on a book of poetry? Named a rat because it was the only thing that knew you were alive?

    Packed everything that mattered into a backpack and hit the road without looking back? Laid awake nights wondering if you should have stayed in school?

    Have you been afraid? Have you stared into the abyss and seen it stare back at you? Have you shivered not from cold but from understanding?

    Have you held the hand of someone as they died? Kissed an old lady on the cheek? Danced cold and wet in the rain? Read stories to a child with a fever?

    And have you ever been drunk on the sweet sound of words, pouring over your tongue, dancing in the air, all rhythm and blues and symphonies of smoke?

    You don’t have to do it all, but you have to have done some, or there won’t be magic in your words. It’s not enough to tell other people’s stories, you’ve gotta have some of your own. The laughter and tears in your words have to come from deep inside you, gasping for breath as they rise to the surface.

    If the words don’t do that, if you don’t do that, I'm told that being an accountant can be fun. At least you get to play with money, even if it’s not your own.

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    1. Ooh. I like this one. The end snap is unexpected. And I think I qualify to be a writer. ;) An old theory put anew.

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    2. I'm 125% sure you're qualified, and you are... besides, you'd make a lousy accountant

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  27. Oh, I know what they call me. An old spinster like me is used to the names. I don’t much care, and truth be told, about half of them are true, but I’ll leave it to you to determine which half.

    The house, big and old as it is, only confirms their suspicions of me. Cobwebs, broken windows, and faulty wiring. It’s all too much for me to keep up.

    The windows wouldn’t be broken if the damned kids didn’t throw rocks, but kids these days got no respect for property. Most of 'em, anyway.

    I might have married, once, but the young man didn’t much care for my mindset. "Too independent," he said. Pity. He was handsome, and well off. Things might have been different.

    But enough about me. Would you care for a cookie? No? What, you think I’d poison them? Do you have any idea how hard it is to find arsenic these days? And I lost my last deadly nightshade plant in the frost this spring. That was unexpected. I thought it would be hardy, but no.

    The young man's name? Why ever would you ask such a thing? Let bygones be bygones, I always say. I should have waited till after the wedding, but sometimes witches are impatient.

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  28. Etienne didn’t look like a soldier. His hair was too long and his beard was too full; in his eyes Valerie still saw the pink-cheeked toddler who rolled down hills and hunted grasshoppers and stomped through puddles with her, the pimply-faced teen who cut class and smoked cigarettes and made trouble…without her. But he stood tall and solid in her living room, and she forced herself to see the man he’d become. The man who could no longer sit idle while evil had its way with the world. Only then could she see how his time with the army had changed him. Made him wily. Made him quick. It had made him like Papa, but he’d surely give her a punch in the arm if she told him so.

    She wanted but didn’t want to ask how long he’d be home this time. Instead she offered lunch. “I have tuna salad, or I could make—”

    “Come with me,” he said.

    “Come with you?” She blinked a couple times. “Why, the army could use a few good cooks?”

    “No. Well, that. We could always use that. But we need numbers. Right now we’re outmanned, and…”

    “You’re also insane.”

    She began to retreat to the kitchen but he stopped her. He grinned, his eyes so young again. “Come on, sis. You can’t tell me it’s because you don’t know how to fight.”

    She could fight. Papa had made sure of it. “But I’m not trained…to do what you do.”

    “There’s some training, and I could help you with that, but it’s not about strength, so much, what our unit does. It’s about being smart. Paying attention. You’d be really good at that.”

    She was good at that. He might have been good at cutting class and sneaking cigarettes and making trouble, but she was always the one who caught him. Maybe actually doing something, instead of hunkering down in this safe little house waiting for the world to change, would make a difference. To someone. Somewhere. Maybe.

    “Okay.” The cocky smile said he believed he had her on the ropes. “Maybe I’ll take you up on that lunch, and while we’re eating you can think about it.”

    Her stomach quavered at the gut-punch of leaving these four walls that had contained her for so long, at the uncertainties that lay before her, but she forced herself to stand up taller and meet his eye. “Well, they say an army travels on its stomach. So maybe let’s take that lunch to go.”

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    1. ah, that's awesome! And I have no doubt she aided in their overturning the nasties. And I love that we have no idea what the conflict is, but you've still made us cheer the brother and the sister on!

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    2. Agreed. I want to know more about all of this.

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