Friday, May 06, 2011

Unflashed! "Running Late"

My Flashing Friends have another week of stories up, this time on the theme "Unintended Consequences". My story again fell short of the bar, so here it is anyway: "Running Late". I actually thought this was kind of good, for once. Ah well.

I slid into a seat towards the back of the auditorium, on time, but only just. The professor, a tweedy looking guy with thick glasses, had already started.

"When one undertakes an act, one undertakes the risk of all possible consequences of the act, wouldn't you agree? Or, to use the vernacular, don't do the crime if you can't do the time." He got a laugh, but it was a perfunctory one.

I slid down lower in my seat, bringing the brim of my Red Sox cap in line with the top of his head. I didn't want to fall asleep, but I didn't want to listen to this crap, either. All consequences? You can't do anything without imagining all possible outcomes? Like hell. She said she was safe. It's not my fault. It's not like I made her do it. She wanted to.

"Who is responsible, we must ask ourselves. Whose fault is it when things go awry? Who do we blame when an undesired event, however unlikely, occurs?"

She said it was OK.

When I reminded her of that, on the phone this morning as I dashed for class, she spat back, "I know what I SAID, Richard. And I know what this is, and I know now that I was wrong. And I know one more thing, too. I know you're not going to discard me. I'm not some dumb little mistake."

Monday, May 02, 2011

100 Word Challenge: "Home Sweet Home"

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge will not produce its birth certificate, no matter how many times you ask. This week's word is "Family", and my story is called, "Home Sweet Home"

I opened the door. It was raining. She was soaked to the skin, her light blue dress almost transparent. "I'm sorry," she said, and coughed once. Her arms were folded across her chest. I reached out and pulled her inside by her elbows. I shut the door firmly.

She coughed again. "I'm sorry I said that. I'm sorry I-"

"No," I interrupted. "It's fine. You don't have to apologize."

"I don't have anywhere to go," she said.

"I know," I said. "You can stay. It's fine. Really. Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in."

Tornado Relief Challenge: Who'll Stop The Rain?

Daniel has begun a flash fiction challenge, 1000 words, based on the theme of rain. Here's my entry, "Who'll Stop The Rain".

Kayla Bennett was up before her alarm. She had laid out her full uniform- underwear, socks, shorts, top, shin guards- the whole thing. She was up, changing in the dark, assembling herself, rushing into the bathroom to brush her teeth in case her mom decided to check. She came down the stairs, stepping carefully so her cleats didn't make any noise.

She came through the kitchen, her mother already at the table, staring down into a steaming cup of coffee. "Oh, honey," she said. "It's raining. No game today." She sounded really disappointed, even though Kayla secretly felt like her mom hated soccer, all the chaos and the driving and the waiting.

"It's going to stop," Kayla said.

"I don't think it is, baby."

"It will."

Kayla walked past her mother and into the living room, looking out the giant picture window. Her younger sister Kara was already there, ragged blanket in one fist, staring dumbly at the TV from one corner of the couch. Kayla looked outside. It was a dark, angry rain, pouring out of a cement gray sky. Kayla knew it wasn't going to stop, just like that blonde woman said on the news last night. She could hear the narrator on the TV talking about how bananas were yellow. Kara was always the first one up, but she, like her mom, needed a little time to warm up before she was ready to talk.

Kayla stood very close to the window and looked up, hoping for a break in the clouds, a line of sun that would signal a possible game today. The sky gave her no hope, a uniform gray with rolling black bubbles. It looked angry. Evil. She stared at it, willing it to split, commanding the clouds to part. She sighed, looking down at the tips of her cleats against the wall. Stupid rain.

Kara was beside her now, looking up at her, her tiny fingers playing with the hem of Kayla's soccer shorts. Kara was always fascinated by the satiny finish.

"Rainin," Kara said. She was annoying at times, but she was so cute it was hard to stay mad. Kayla looked down at her disordered hair and wide eyes.


"Gonna play today?" That was unlikely, Kayla admitted to herself. The rain was pouring down in sheets, and even if it were to break right now, Kayla thought, the field would take hours to dry. She'd play in the rain- she'd play in anything. But nobody else would.

"No, Kar."

"Why you got your 'form on?," she asked.

"I was hoping it would stop raining."

Kara looked outside, her tiny face screwed tight with a look of concentration. "Stop, rain!" she commanded.

"Thanks, Kar. I don't think that will work." That was sweet of her.

Kara went back to the couch, resuming her previous post. Soccer was really the only thing she was good at, the only thing that made her special. She wasn't the prettiest girl in her school, or the nicest, or the smartest. Kara got all kinds of attention, being the baby, and Katherine...she got attention for another reason. Soccer, especially if Katherine and Kara stayed home, was her time to shine, her time when Mom and Dad looked only at her.

She kicked the base of the wall, very softly. The toe of the cleat made a satisfying thunk. She kicked it a little harder, delighting in the solid sound it made.

"Don't do that," Katherine said behind her. "Dad'll make you clean it if you make a mark." Her older sister had come in to the living room, phone in hand, texting madly. Kayla watched her walk, almost waddle, her belly now sticking out so far her sleep pants, black ones with moons and stars on them, were constantly slipping, leaving a crescent of pale, tight skin. Kayla shivered with the weirdness of that. She could hardly imagine there was a whole person inside her sister's body. Kayla stopped kicking.

Katherine sat on the opposite end of the couch, her belly resting between her legs. Kara looked at one sister, then the other.

"Baby come today?," Kara asked. She asked this every day.

"I don't know," Katherine said dismissively. "Maybe."

Kayla heard her father's low voice in the kitchen. A moment later, he came out, already wearing a Red Sox cap along with a gray shirt and blue sweats. "I don't think there's a game today, Punkin," he began, looking at Kayla with wrinkled eyes.

"I know," Kayla said, a little louder than she intended. She stalked out of the room, not caring how loud her cleats sounded. She walked through the now empty kitchen, and started up the stairs, hauling her uniform top off as she went. She opened the door to her room, then shut it hard behind her. Acting mad seemed to only make her angrier as she stripped off the uniform piece by piece, setting the shoes and shin guards down but hurling the pants, shirt, socks, and underwear around the room. Finally, her momentum spent and a little bit ashamed, Kayla Bennett crawled under her covers again, unwilling to face another long Saturday as the third kid.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: "I Saw Her Standing There"

Chuck Wendig, the firey pen monkey with a heart of gold and testicles of aircraft aluminum, lost his dog recently, inviting his weekly challenge friends to pay tribute in the form of a story involving a good dog. I'm not a dog guy, which I know makes me basically lacking in my humanity, but there you go. I still had an idea, though, so here goes. 

I saw her standing, leaning against the bar facing the rest of the room. She had on a red gown that hugged her curves. Bridesmaid dresses were a running joke, but she looked fine. I got a scotch and soda, then turned to stand near her, facing the same way. I tried to measure my distance, standing close enough to signal affection without assuming intimacy. Her brown hair fell in waves down her back, and her face, though pretty, looked pinched. 

"Hi," she offered. Her voice sounded tight, like she wanted to follow her glass of wine with 8 or 10 more. 

"Having fun?"

"No. I'm going to sit down," she said, and walked to a table. The band was piling onto the stage again.

I walked around the table and sat in the chair next to hers, turning it so I faced her. She had her legs crossed, one bare foot pointing at me. 

"Shoes killing you?," I offered. 

"You have no idea," she said.

"No, I don't look good in heels," I said. She chuckled. 

"You one of his friends?" 

"Yeah," I admitted. "College. We wrote on the school paper." 

"I was Shannon's roommate junior and senior year." 

"Aha. Was she as boring as Gary was?" 

"Oh, God. When she met Gary, all she did was study. No drunken hookups." 

"What about you?" 

"What? Hookups? I had my share." 

"I did my share, too," I added. 

She put her feet together on the floor, her painted toes bright and cheerful. "Sorry," she began. 

"No, it's fine," I said. "I understand. Those shoes look great, but not comfortable."

"I only wear shoes like that to weddings."

"Been going to a lot?" 

"Oh, my God. This is the fourth this month. I was only a bridesmaid in this one, though." 

"That's extra work, isn't it." 

"God, yes. More work, more money."

"But you kind of have to do it, huh?"

"Yeah. It's hard to turn someone down for this."

She looked up at me. Her eyes were starting to swim. "Want a refill?"

"Yes, but no." Her voice wavered. "I do, but I think I should stop. I want to drink a lot, and I really shouldn't."

"Bad day, huh?," I offered. 

"Well sort of," she began. "It was stressful, but it wasn't just this. It's just that, well...," her voice trailed off. Her chin wrinkled. 

"You don't have to tell me," I offered, trying to give her a way out.

"It's my dog, Daisy. I took her to the vet and they called me this morning. There's nothing they can do."

"Oh, no," I said. "That's awful." 

"I'm flying back home tomorrow morning, and I just don't know if I can handle it. She was a good dog. My mom got her for me when we moved, and she has been my best friend ever since. I complained about boys to her, I told her all my secrets, I went almost everywhere with her, and she never complained about anything, not once. Want to see her?"

"Of course," I said. She took her phone out of her purse to show me a mutt, looking at the lens eagerly, deciding whether or not the phone was something to eat. "She looks friendly," I offered.

"Oh, she is. She loves everybody...," she said, her voice breaking. "Dammit, I'll ruin my makeup."

"You look fine," I said. "But it has run a little," I added truthfully. 

"I assumed. I'll go fix it in a minute. What really bugs me is...I mean," she said,  "I'm not dumb. I knew she wouldn't live forever. I just always had it in my head that she was going to meet my first baby. That's just this idea I had. And now she won't. It's just not fair. She was good....I mean why her? Why now? She just started limping, I figured it might be arthritis maybe. But not this. Not cancer. "

She got quiet as the band started playing "American Girl". "Shannon loves this song. I haven't told Shannon. I haven't told anybody. Just you. And you couldn't care less."

"Of course I care. A death in the family is always traumatic."

"Thank you. Every time I bring her up in the office, they all say, 'Well, it's not like it's a baby.' And I'm like, 'I know.' But they don't understand. I haven't had a serious boyfriend since college, I don't know anyone in town! Daisy is my only friend! Who am I going to tell now?" Her full face was fixed and firm, her eyes holding mine as if she expected me to answer. 

She stood up. "I'm going to go clean up. Thank you for listening to me. You can go circulate now." 

"No, no," I insisted. "I've done about all the circulating I can stand."

"OK," she said. She swallowed her wine in one swallow. "I'll take that refill, then." She slid her shoes on and left.

I drained my drink, then got two more. I had her pegged, watching her not participate in the chatter, assuming she felt she was above it. I could see now that she was more complicated than my simple judgement would allow. She came back out as the band was starting "I Saw Her Standing There". Her face was mostly clean now. I smiled softly, handing her another glass of wine. 

"Thanks. Want to dance?" 

"I don'," I stuttered.

"Oh, come on," she said, slipping off her shoes. "Just follow me," she said. I did. 

IndieInk Writing Challenge: No Remorse

The Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week comes to me from Jan, who tells me "He ran on the beach, with the waves lapping at his aching legs. What is he running from?" (My challenge, "symmetry", goes to Cope.)

I woke up early, forcing myself onto my feet before I could change my mind. My bedroom was sparse, which was how I wanted it. No distractions. No remorse. No regrets. I pulled on running clothes and running shoes, trying to get myself out there before I fully realized what I was doing. I put my keys and my IPod into my pockets, then headed out the door, locking it behind me.

I stood stock still, looking as far as I could to one side, and then the other. The ocean was there, remote and implacable, roaring constantly, underscoring everything you said and did. It was time to get to work, I thought, it's not going to get any easier. Just do it. Start moving. It will never get any harder than it is the first day, and it will get easier. So just start.

I started the IPod, letting James Hetfield's angry bark motivate me. I went back to the first album, needing the uptempo rhythms and anger of a band ready to take on the world. It also reminded me of high school- when I used to come in the winter to hit the weights and stay strong, the coach who supervised us used to play this tape over and over. I walked down to the beach, starting along the hard sand, letting a brisk walk get me warm.

Caroline had started the fight again last night. Since the divorce, she became more controlling, complaining about every trip, every obligation that wasn't, in her view, necessary. She had a point- I had made plenty of money, with more to come before this contract ran out. There were beaches in North Carolina- I didn't have to come out here.

When the calendar turned, I had to get serious. I had to simplify, get clean and pure. I had to get away from them, from story time and runny noses and waiting with the other minivans at pickup time. I needed to train, focusing on nothing else, building uo the endurance i would need come August. Despite what Caroline says, I do love my girls. But they're draining.

I started a slow jog, my joints creaking as I moved. The fog was still lingering, clouding everything other than what was in front of me. I did this, flew away from aggravation and obligation to come out to Southern California to start working out by myself, getting into fighting shape for the season to come.

Yes, I was going to get paid, regardless of how I performed. There was something else at work, though- I was starting to measure myself against the greats, and no amount of money would help me there. I had done something that very few had ever done- ascended to the very top of my field, becoming among the very best in the world.

I broke into a genuine run, finding a nice rhythm against the dark sand, the sea pounding at my feet, the drumming thundering in my ears. I know the girls would rather I be there to pick them up after violin practice. But I wanted to show them that when you have a chance to do something, you do it, as hard as you can for as long as you can. You make sure it gets everything you have while you're young enough to give it. You do it, the only thing you've ever been any good at, for as long as they will let you.