Thursday, September 15, 2011

100 Word Challenge: Shampoo

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge has resumed its reign of terror atop the 100 word literary challenge landscape. The word is "inhibited" and my story is called "Shampoo".

She was proud of her hair, and rightfully so. It was long, brown, and wavy, and she flipped it around constantly. It wiggled when she raised her head to watch the lecture. I wanted to touch it constantly, see what sort of magic it held, but I never did. She always smelled like shampoo and baby powder, and she always seemed under control somehow, like she wanted for nothing, had no simple human lusts like the rest of us.

"When that signal reaches the gonads, the production of sex hormones will be inhibited," the professor said.

Hardly, I was thinking.

Write On Edge: Kiss The Bride

My friends at Write on Edge have a new challenge up, 600 words about heartbreak. I expanded a previous stub and came up with this, "Kiss The Bride".

She’s getting married.

I'm in the church, sitting apart from anyone else, nodding politely when nodded to. I had to see it, had to prove it to myself. She's gone. The church is silent, save for squeaks when someone shifts their weight on the ancient wood and the buzz of the road outside, commerce and progress and other people's lives moving onwards like nothing was happening. I'm not even invited to the wedding. I snuck in, sitting in the very back, needing to witness, wanting to see. I wouldn't dare talk to her.

I want to protest, but why shouldn’t she get married? She’s been out of my life for years, lingering in my head like a ghost image on an old TV, but she greeted my return to her life with a multi paragraph apology that I sweated blood to compose, with a simple reply.

“No worries. We were young.”

Nope, no worries. And young? Yes, we were so damn young.

We were beautiful, and we were free, young and careless and as wild as a minimum wage job would let someone be. I burned with ferocious pride when I saw her sitting at a restaurant table, sitting there, guileless and open. I couldn't spend enough time with her, putting aside everything I could, even if it was only to drive her home after dance class. She was perfect to me, and I wanted to protect her from everything, the rain and the wind and every possible heartbreak. I didn't know yet that you can't do that. Nobody can.

Sitting here in an old suit jacket I whip out for weddings and funerals, sweating in the sneaky June warmth, I feel the little aches and pains that tell me I'm not young anymore. The clergyman, in a broad baritone, asks if anyone objects. No one ever does, except in movies, but I have to stifle the urge to shout out in the quiet. Like the Elton John song, I should just stand up and say I want to kiss the bride. I do. She looks beautiful, wiser now, of course, with a few wrinkles. Her face, with her hair pulled back tight, still looks innocent. I do want to kiss her, and apologize, and beg her to reconsider. But I don't.

The whole thing was doomed to failure. What I had for her was a worship, not a relationship with give and take and human interaction. I didn't know how to be someone's partner- I was barely human myself. I was a kid, a kid who thought he knew it all, but still, a kid. Even if I hadn't ended it, it would have ended. There isn't any doubt about that. I know this, and yet, and heart breaks as they kiss. Something is gone forever.

"You may kiss the bride," the clergyman says.

It's one thing to suspect you've blown it. It's quite another to see it demonstrated.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Labor Day

Chuck Wendig will not run, and if elected, will not serve. This week's challenge is about a picture on his website of a woman holding a torch, and my story is called "Labor Day".

They really didn't know what to do with us. We were too old for the kid programs, and too young for the adult programs, and our parents weren't brave enough to leave us at home alone all weekend. So when Labor Day Weekend rolled around, we went up to the lake and the Family Conference anyway. We wandered, sitting on the beach where it was too cold to swim, or watching the softball game we were too cool to participate in. We played frisbee, or congregated around an electrical outlet to listen to each other's collection of tapes. We complained about how boring it was, but we still managed to fill every minute.

There were six of us: moody Goth Victoria, straightlaced Susan, happy go lucky Kelly, aimless Jim, troubled Mark, and me. 3 boys, 3 girls: perfectly symmetrical. We all either had special someones back home or were too disaffected to care, so by some unspoken agreement, we didn't talk about it. We talked about sports, or our plans for the fall, or whether the Smiths were better than the Cure. We had been coming to this same old campground for years, so we knew each other, but only for these four day stretches once a year.

It was late Sunday night, and we had all gathered around a campfire. Every group of cabins had an assigned "babysitter" who sat by the fire and kept warm while the parents were off at some seminar or other. They were basically in charge of being around, comforting children with bad dreams until their parents returned from yoga, or Movie Night, or the book group. We were sitting on the end of picnic tables, on rocks, on stumps, all aware that the long weekend was about to end, and our regular lives beckoned.

Susan was tall, unusually tall for a girl, with short, intensely curly hair that always looked wet. She had the gift of looking well put together, somehow more formal than everyone else, even when wearing teenager chic. She was fairly quiet, but when she spoke, everyone listened. If she laughed at something I said, my heart leapt. I had been in love with her more and more each year. Becca, the pig tailed teen whose fire we were gathered around, stared at her as rapturously as I did.

"Everybody back next year?," cheerful Kelly began. There were a chorus of yesses, including mine, except for Susan. She was sitting, chin on her knees. She stood up. There was dirt on the knees of her jeans, which was unusual. She seemed like the sort of person who would change pants after dirtying the knees.

"Susie Q?," Kelly said, a little softer.

Susan stood close to the fire. The licking tongues of orange made flashing patterns on her face. I wanted to cry out, tell her to back away, that it wasn't safe. She wasn't looking at any of us. Without warning, she stuck her hand out and took the butt end of a stick that was in the fire, holding it aloft. The other end burned unsteadily, a nub of flame separated from the larger body. She held it up above her head, watching it sputter and glow in the moonlight. I looked at her brown eyes, her perfect face, looking for an answer. Was she looking for an honest man?

She brought it down and held it close to her lips.

"No," she said softly. "This is my last year." She put the stick back into the fire again.

Nobody said anything. I knew I was never going to see her again now. It was time. Get up, I thought. Tell her. You have to let her know how you feel. Now. Don't wait.

"That's too bad," Kelly said. "I'll miss you."

I looked up at her, standing too close to the fire, the ember by her lips. If you don't say it now, you're never going to.

"I'm going to go to bed," Susan said. I watched her walk across in front of me, dirty knees almost at eye level. Reach out, I thought. Stop her. Tell her you need to stay in touch.

"Good night, everybody."

"Good night," we echoed.

She walked off into the night, and I stared at the fire. It was cold.

Flash Fiction Friday: "No Way Out"

This week's Flash Fiction Friday challenge involves music, and my story this week is called "No Way Out".

It was the only way out. Sherry and the kids are gone, the bank is up my ass about the mortgage, the car needs brakes, and springs, and Lynnie needs asthma medicine, and every job short of fry cook is "not a match for my skills". Everything is fine, until suddenly it isn't- you're late one day, and then another, and then another, and you start to worry. You worry, and you can't sleep, and then you oversleep, and then you're late again. There's screaming, and fighting, and less sleep, and less performance, and on and on and on.

I pulled over to the side, putting my hazards on after a passing car honked at me. "Want the car, buddy? Take it," I thought bitterly. You couldn't get very close to the bridge, probably because they don't want you to do what I am about to do. So I parked, left the keys, and started walking across. The rain swollen river rushed and roared under my feet. I knew it wasn't far enough to do the job, but I figured the current and the cold would do what I needed it to do.

There's a weird kind of peace that came over me Saturday when I decided this was the way to go. I started making extravagant promises.

"Sure," I told the guy from Chase. "I'll get the money together by Tuesday. Not a problem. Yes, I'll absolutely call you. No problem."

"Absolutely," I told Sherry. "I'll take the kids next weekend. Not a problem at all."

"Certainly, I'll mail you that resume," I told the headhunter. "Just let me print it out."

I got to the middle. I knew, in my middle of the night torture sessions, that I had to get out there quick, because someone would notice and try to intervene. I didn't want to talk about it- there wasn't any other way forward. Sherry? Well, she's just going to have to figure things out. Sorry. I've done what I can, and I've taken all I can take.

There was an inner barrier, about chest high, with a second one beyond that. After that second one, just the terrible, empty air. I kicked one leg up, then brought the other one up and over, and all there was between me and the water was a smooth, silver rail. I felt like a clock was ticking. I only had a couple of minutes before someone noticed me. I had the nagging feeling there should be some ceremony.

I heard a distant saxophone playing. Perfect, I thought.

Someone was playing on a rooftop nearby. It was coming from behind me, so I couldn't tell who it was, but I knew the sound. I listened to it swoop and soar on the wind. Somebody whose roommate was sick of them playing, maybe, or perhaps just someone who just felt like making something beautiful and putting it out there. I didn't know all the music the anonymous troubadour was playing, but I recognized elements of it. It seemed like they were trying phrases from pop records like "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "52nd Street", combined with meandering, wandering slow solos. A player in a cover band, perhaps, getting warmed up.
As I feared, I felt my nerve melting away. My heart rate slowed, and I really listened. Something perfect and beautiful, as ephemeral as snow, seemingly being played just for me. I stood and I waited. I tried to picture the fall, the rushing air and the smack when I hit the water. Would it knock me out? Would I have to go through the torture of drowning?

The music kept coming. I could feel the eyes of the drivers on the bridge behind me. I didn't look like I belonged, and people were noticing. I thought I heard a siren starting towards the bridge. The music kept coming, flowing and echoing amid the rushed grinding of cars across the bridge.

I felt like my feet decided before I did. As I began the walk back to the car, I wondered how much dinner I could get for the $4.75 I had in my pocket.