Friday, May 15, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!


Mom is super tall, covered in smile. Most of the time. Sometimes, the smile is gone. Sometimes, the smile being gone is a message in a bottle; sometimes it is a cannon blast across the bow of your misguided ship. Sometimes, the wooden spoons whips the air into song, crashing as it lands. Sometimes, you’re sitting, looking at the way a Grey Blue Heron stands.

Sometimes, it’s celery stalks in water. Different food coloring, and you watch it climb up the veins. You do the same things with Queen Anne’s Lace, and it looks gaudy, but who cares. Orange flowers, Green flowers, Blue flowers. Sometimes, you’re running through the acres out back, ducking limbs or plowing through them because you just want to run.

It’s always hot in the summer, and it’s like the heat amplifies everything and mutes it at the same time. The days fall in on themselves and you’re eggshell-walking through them like time is made of warm mud. Can’t even see through it. Sometimes, it makes Mom so mad. You don’t blame her; there are lots of things to be mad about. Legitimately.

Hell, you’re mad.

But mostly, it’s one long afternoon without promise. One stretch of drudgery. One hike through the tangled nonsense of your subconscious. And you stay hoping. Hoping that Mom will keep smiling. That the silent ghosts won’t pull her away like they always do. That you can just cut up some flowers and turn them stupid colors and smile, no wooden spoon in sight.


Pretty Dress

You’re looking everywhere but at that pretty dress, because when you look at it, it makes you feel things. You can see other folks staring, and they all got their reasons. Lyle is staring because he’s practically an ape; it’s lucky he’s not humping her leg. The rest of the men are taking quick glances or trying not to look because, I mean, hell.

A lot of the women are pointing cigarettes and bayonets. Ice eyes. Smiling lies. Hell, a lot of women would like to see her drawn and quartered. And that makes sense, too.

Not me.

I’m looking at Loraine in that pretty dress, and it looks just wonderful. Man, you can tell exactly how she felt when she bought that dress. The way she looked at it when she tried it on at Kohls. Brought it home. Called it the Unicorn Dress. One of a kind.

That dress wasn’t a dress. That dress was a little girl’s dream. About Los Angeles, and parties, and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. It was about paparazzi and glamourous red carpets with cameras going off like little explosions. And it was never going to happen, but that didn’t make it sad. That dress was a rose that grew through barbed-wire. It was a newborn smile, and it was a warm cup of coffee on a winter morning. It didn’t make me lusty. It didn’t make me angry.

It made me glad that there are little girls who dream.


  1. I'm reserving this space for Mr. Mader comments. Be back later.

    1. Story 1. I love the last paragraph, which summed up for me what's happening, particularly loving the line about tangled nonsense and it's swinging rhyme:

      But mostly, it’s one long afternoon without promise. One stretch of drudgery. One hike through the tangled nonsense of your subconscious. And you stay hoping. Hoping that Mom will keep smiling.

      I like how he knows she's not always happy, that she drifts off somewhere else. he knows. i guess she's unaware that he knows. and it's like he's growing up. and he wants to protect her from memory (?).

      Story 2: have you seen a film called the Dressmaker with Kate Winslet in it. This made me think of her in all her fabulous dresses. People's reactions are interesting. It's just a dress, but it makes her different. The leg-humping image is hilarious. She might not even know the effect that the dress is having. The response of the women is horrible, as is the lusting men, and then the narrator is completely different. He gets her. The beginning of a love story... :) I love the 'Unicorn Dress' idea too. And that connects with the little girl dreams. But she's a woman and with that comes those negative responses. There's a sadness in growing up here that I picked up on too.

    2. Covered in smiles. Love that so hard.

    3. Dude, what happened? You just hit another level. This is moving and profound. Seriously. I always love the emotional backdrop of your writing, the source of it all, but this is next level, and I mean it.

      "That dress wasn’t a dress. That dress was a little girl’s dream. About Los Angeles, and parties, and driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. It was about paparazzi and glamourous red carpets with cameras going off like little explosions. And it was never going to happen, but that didn’t make it sad. That dress was a rose that grew through barbed-wire. It was a newborn smile, and it was a warm cup of coffee on a winter morning. It didn’t make me lusty. It didn’t make me angry.

      It made me glad that there are little girls who dream."

    4. Yes. That part. I love that part.

  2. Part 1 (continuing the Delilah story from last week)

    Delilah scrutinized the trunk of her old Volvo, performing a visual inventory of the supplies she’d need to confront the stubborn holdouts of her community. All looked ready to go, but she hesitated, her slightly arthritic left hand curled around the rusting metal. She grabbed one of the kits she and her team had assembled—a paper grocery sack containing a mask and gloves, hand sanitizer, and an info sheet about symptoms, prevention, and where to get tested. Then she closed the trunk and, head high, walked three doors down to the elderly gentleman’s home, up his six stairs to the rickety porch, and rang the bell.

    As she waited, she scoffed at how she’d automatically reached for that term—elderly gentleman. The same way she rolled her eyes at “senior citizen,” another euphemism. Truth be told, Edward O’Dell (never Eddie, god forbid) was the dictionary definition of “cantankerous old coot.” Even before he became old. Even before he’d lost his wife. He yelled at kids to get off his lawn. He threatened to call animal control on dogs that had escaped their leashes. He groused about late delivery of his mail, the inequities of school taxes, the incompetence of the local politicians, the way Delilah’s children parked their cars too close to his house when they came to visit, the price of coffee, the state of the world, and the vagaries of the weather, as if an amorphous “someone” should do something about that.

    She was about to ring again when she heard clumping from inside the house, then a voice. “Hold your water, for Pete’s sake, I’m comin’.”

    Delilah backed up a few steps, to maintain a safe distance. But when the wooden door swung open and she saw his face behind the screen, the shock of white hair above his piercing eyes, no distance felt safe enough.

    1. Part 2

      “You again. I told you, same as I told that kid down the street, I don’t need no groceries fetched for me, I can go to the store any time I darn well please, and no deep state commie governor’s gonna tell me different.”

      “Good morning to you, too, Edward.” She forced a smile, even though he couldn’t see it beneath her Grateful Dead mask. “But that’s not why I’m here.”

      He eyeballed the paper bag. “Another banana bread? Last one gave me indigestion.”

      She didn’t remember the last time she’d made banana bread, let alone surprised a neighbor with it, but she soldiered on. “I have a protection kit for you.”

      He gave a crooked grin. “Oh. That thing. No. Uh-uh. I fought in two wars. I don’t need no pansy mask. I don’t even remember the last time I got sick. I got, whadda you call, natural immunity.”

      Delilah sighed. Maybe he didn’t remember the last time he got sick, but she did. Three years ago. A bad flu season, both he and his late wife Arlene came down with it. Their daughter Mary flew in from Virginia. Delilah had had many cups of tea with Mary, first while she was tending to her parents, then after, when Mary asked for her help planning her mother’s funeral.

      “All right, Edward.” Delilah pushed kindness into her voice, her eyes. “Tell you what. I’ll just set the bag right here.” She placed it on the worn rocker next to the door. “I’ll swing back this afternoon. If you don’t want it, I’ll give it to someone else. Always someone else who needs it, so it won’t go to waste.”

      He grumbled something about hell freezing over, then nodded and closed the door.

      She sighed and returned to her car. She knew he’d be a tough sell. Maybe it was time to give Mary a call. Even though Delilah’s children on occasion gave her fits, telling her what she should and shouldn’t do, she knew that it was motivated by love. Maybe Mary could succeed where Delilah couldn’t.

      She drove off on her rounds, talked with some much nicer people and gave away nearly all her kits. When she pulled the Volvo to the curb at the end of her day, she snapped off the engine and leaned back in the seat, taking a few deep breaths, before she went inside and faced that initial jolt of loneliness. Oh, she was content, mostly, being on her own now, but it was those first few moments she felt it the most.

      As she lost herself in her thoughts, movement up the block caught her attention. Edward’s front door. It opened. He shuffled out. He looked at the rocker as if having a conversation with it. Picked up the bag, then went back inside.

    2. Loving the ending to Story 1. It's hilarious. The description of the old man through her eyes is great. She's summed him up before he even gets to the door. And the subject is up to the minute. Love the 'stubborn holdouts' image. And he's even grumpily cursing when he's coming to the door. I just love that last line.

    3. At the end of Story 2, I'm thinking she's as lonely as he is. He's stubbornly independent and so is she. Love the Grateful Dead detail. And his responses are real. He doesn't want help, doesn't need it, but I think he knows he does really and I think he's grateful. The grateful almost-dead!

    4. I'm always envious of how you build such believable characters in such a short story. These two characters are perfect, and by perfect, I mean with flaws and goodness. I look forward to more of the story.

    5. Love and flaws. It's the very best of us. Like Vickie, I love the details, and like Leland, I love the deft drawing of the characters.

    6. Such strong characterization

  3. She senses she needs to hide as the great crowd shuffles by, so she sits on tired haunches behind a dust-coated mesquite, and she watches.

    Though part of her knows this is suicidal—her cover is scant and their number large—she looks for him nonetheless, scanning the lumbering, largely silent ranks as they pour out of the urban hotspot where the virus has claimed so many.

    Marcus. Impossible as it seems, she needs to find him in this great mass of angled limbs and haunted faces. The highway is thronged with their futile slog. She tries to recall how they’d become separated but can only remember calamitous movement against a chemical sky, barks and screams and feral, clutching wails. The dismal stamp of human violence and the wrench of something worse: a ravening implacable lust to consume like a crass and callous parody of a culture already gone.

    Instead of recalling their separation, her mind returns to a time of peace as if insulating her against all the shocks. As if her mind is pinning like the iris of a bird, dimming at the edges and flashing only erratic scenes. Sailboats in waters so clear they seemed almost to hover in nothing above a bed of bright coral teeming with all shades and hues of fish. A man on a beach cut coconuts with a machete with supernatural precision. Seabirds swooped in arcs like calligraphy.

    “We should never go home,” she said to him.

    “Home is wherever we want it to be.” And his smile, teeth so white it felt illusory.

    Other memories, shifting like an old Kodak Carousel like the one her father had used with pride to show the high points of their lives.

    Clandestine trysts in adolescence, fumblings in a torn backseat, ice cream and chills at the horrorshow drive-in, rescuing Oscar as a kitten from a trashcan and bringing him home, thwarted pregnancies, the awful moment when they hit something in their camper as night fell in the Catskills and looked back at a brakelit smear that had once been a fawn.

    Holidays and celebrations. Drunken hilarity. Friends; few if any enemies. Stupid quarrels, and not too many of those. Her sweet singing; his cadence, his rhythm. Their move to this dry southwestern place for his promotion. A gentle blameless life with promises of comfort in retirement.

    More. The aurora unfolding and trailing its sheer veils of colour above an Alaskan highway whose fall tapestry almost—almost—matched it. Walks under a gibbous moon as fireflies danced and an owl asked questions of the night. Hiking the Scottish Highlands as evening gathered and the shades of day bled from the hills while they swore they heard the clashing ghosts of past bloodshed. He was always a man who noticed the world, never afraid to pay tribute with a moment of silent vigilance, with a raw whisper, by lacing his fingers with hers and cocking his head like a wolf, his brown eyes the size of her world.

    The flame of their love never guttering. Receiving him on sultry nights under star fields as he moved inside her and she tasted the salt of his sweat, the savour of each cherished drop.

    “Do you ever regret not having a family?” he once asked her.

    “No life is perfect. Ours almost is. You are my family.”

    With that she sees him, close by, in the liminal space where the sweltering highway meets the dirt shoulder, her love in a halo of dust. Marcus. Her Marcus. Still impossibly straight even now, less stooped than his companions, eyes as sad as she’s ever seen them, but fixed ahead as if he still believes in some untold future.

    Heedless, she leaves her cover and moves into the crowd, sensing the closer ones switch course. Some scream at her, atavistic and hollow-eyed with rage and dread; some pinball away. And then Marcus screams too after he half turns, gives that precious head tilt, sees her for the length of time it takes to ruin a fawn… and she sinks her claggy, rotting teeth into the soft warm pulse of his neck and tastes his salt once more.

    1. This is great storytelling. I didn't see that coming - not saying too much in case anyone reads this first! Wow. There's a lot of images I like in this. It's rich in them. It's very pictoral. Stand-outs are the caligraphy of seabirds, the fawn, the image of him like a wolf. There's a lot of animal images in here actually. Which connects with the whole.

    2. You're killing me, Antrobus. This line is one of my favorites: "The dismal stamp of human violence and the wrench of something worse: a ravening implacable lust to consume like a crass and callous parody of a culture already gone." Like Vickie said, great storytelling. And that fawn in the Catskills punched me in the heart.

    3. Wow, Antrobus does horror! And he does it well! I love the details of their life together, the rich sensory cues... all of it! Well told, sir!

    4. My biggest fear was that I'd fucked up the misdirection, so thank you, all of you. And yes, this is actually my second zombie story, and the animal imagery was dear to me. So again, thank you! :)

    5. the misdirection worked and this is like a horror fable/commentary/bleak sarcasm. At least that's how I read it - I'm having a nervous breakdown though, so ;)

  4. Here's one that I wrote yesterday.


    There’s a hound in the street,
    Brown and whimpering.
    He hasn’t eaten for days
    And he peers up at you.

    There’s a man in the street,
    Shaking, gesticulating.
    He hasn’t slept in days
    And he calls out to you.

    Did you notice them
    In your rush to the station?

    There’s a girl on the train,
    Sad eyed and weeping.
    She hasn’t spoken in days
    And she won’t look at you.

    There’s a boy on the train,
    Wild-eyed and seething.
    He hasn’t shot up in days
    And his eyes are pleading.

    Did you notice them,
    Or disappear inside yourself?

    1. It's so much easier to pull away and disappear. I'm curious about each of these characters.

    2. Thanks :) You see people do it all the time. And I've probably done it too. And a fine line between helping and interfering.

    3. I wrote a poem tonight and it always feel so unnatural when I do it, but you are a literal fountain of verse. And you wear is so well.

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  6. INK

    I circle patterns on a page.
    My pen is the dancer.
    It needs no accomplice.

    It brings me a safe solace,
    A means of sole expression.
    A balloon, unfettered, free.

    Patterns of our own selves,
    Made with our own hands
    Until this pool of ink runs dry.

    May 16 2020

    1. What a well-captured little moment. "My pen is the dancer." "Until this pool of ink runs dry." Nice.


    He lifts curses,
    Places hearts in jars
    Carried on his back,
    Their keys long lost.

    It’s a wild stretch
    To exist even a second
    In his imagination.
    A series of sealed boxes.

    He keeps you inside,
    Close to his skin,
    Tasting your existence,
    Giving it a spin.

    His pets swing in jars,
    Rattling in the wind.
    Dried-out prunes
    Of the ignorant.

    There are men walking
    Not knowing this pit
    Inside their bony cage
    Is for the forever.

    It won’t fade in time.
    The jars know otherwise,
    Beating to the rhythm of
    The magician’s unearthly feet.

    May 16 2020

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  9. Off the latch

    John never said where he was going. He didn’t dare. He didn’t want anyone to know the pull of the thing, the shadows twisting in the moonlight. The claws making zigzag lines in air. They were his alone. They followed him out, trailed him. They knew his scent by heart, and they had been his playthings since he was a kid with cut-off shorts and a string vest, skidding in the dirt, coming home with holes in his knees.

    Boys will be boys, his dad always said, as his mum opened endless packs of plasters. He still carried the scars. He’d roll out a list of names to his parents, same old, and they never asked questions. His dad was the most antisocial man on Earth and his mum was too embarrassed by their poverty, their sparceness to ever want anyone to venture inside their home. So the shadows never had to meet them. They’d take him places and show him things, and he never had to tell, unless he wanted to, and he never wanted.

    So life went on. He became a loner as a teenager, the weirdo at the back of the class with the oversized clothes and skinny frame whom no one spoke to, but some secretly stared at in awe. He seemed to know things that were beyond most people. He excelled in maths without revising and just sat there in class staring out into space. A prodigy. That’s what they said when he went off to university far too early. And it was a relief to leave his parents.

    Now he was a professor at that same building, teaching in the exact same rooms he once sat in, stuck at the back of the class, the loner. It didn’t matter now. It was almost expected that he should be a person apart. He was too intelligent for the rest of them. And he didn’t want to engage. The shadows had moved with him. They never left him alone. And now it was time. They were pointing outside. At her. The girl walking. And they’d already told him what they wanted him to do. He didn’t need to tell anyone where he was going.

    May 16 2020

    1. I like the slow build; it drew me in. And that ending is chilling. "The shadows twisting in the moonlight" is one of my favorite lines.

  10. The last full moon rose in mid-May that year.

    We watched the evening light fall into darkness, and then we turned to see the golden light of moonrise in the eastern sky. The birds settled in on their perches and grew silent.

    It had rained earlier. The air was heavy with the perfume of sage, and I had unreasonably hoped for a rainbow.

    He refused to go to the doctor, though whenever I felt the slightest bit out of sorts, he’d always insisted on taking me.

    His breathing was abnormal. His body was hot when I lay beside him. He smelled different. Sick.

    They say our brains go into overdrive, capturing more images, more sensory impressions, when there is danger. That’s why it feels like time slows down.

    I screamed as he crumpled to the ground, beneath the stars, beneath the moon, beneath my gaze.

    His breath was no longer labored. His breath no longer was.

    I touched him as his body cooled. The moon rose higher and higher, and I heard animals in the bushes around us. I could not weep, but I could stay with him, protect him from the sacrilege of ravenous animals.

    And I wondered what the morning would bring. I couldn’t do much, but I did what I could. I’m just a dog.

    1. This is so beautiful. Thank you. The details so vivid, the ending perfect.

    2. His breath was no longer labored. His breath no longer was. ---the balance and rhythm are so fucking perfect ---wow


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