Friday, September 30, 2011

Write On Edge: Model Citizen

Write On Edge's prompt this week involves one of two pictures, showing here. My story is based on the second picture, called "Model Citizen".

It was kind of funny. They want to make the pictures natural looking, but in order to do that, they bring artificial lights, and fans, and probably 20 different people being paid by the hour to make sure I look natural. They do this by fiddling with every possible variable- the blush on my cheek, the amount of blonde in my hair, the shine on the tip of the 700 dollar shoe I'm supposed to be selling. There has to be some wind blowing, but not too much- bystanders in the background, but photogenic ones.

I've been doing it for so long it hardly fazes me anymore. Yes, fine, fiddle with that. Sure. No trouble. Turn 4 millimeters to my right? Of course. Sun's behind a cloud? Yes, I'll wait.

It's a strange thing, being this object that all the action centers around. And that's what you are- an object. A pretty thing for them to hang their stuff on.

Helmut calls a break, so I take my leg down from the bench. I feel the muscles of my leg bunching uncomfortable, so I take a couple of tiny steps to try and make the feeling go away. The shoes aren't really comfortable, but that's not the point, is it?

There's a young woman, maybe 20 years old or so, staring at me open mouthed from behind the camera. I recognize the look. It's "I hate you for looking that good" mixed with "I wish I could look that good", about half and half. She's pretty enough, conventionally speaking- a nice, average looking girl body, with cute glasses and a short, spunky haircut. I looked at her skirt, her shoes, the way her blouse stretched tight across her body. I wondered what her life was like. Did she have a boyfriend? Would she go home and spitefully finish a pint of ice cream by herself?

I wished I knew, for a minute, what her life felt like. Not obsessing about skin tone, and angles, and blisters, and weight, and time.

"OK! Let's go everyone!," Helmut called out. I took a couple of tiny, teetering steps, back to the hard steel bench. The girl turned away and walked across the square. I watched her walk as the functionaries fussed and fluttered around the body. At least, I thought, with all her imperfections, she owns her body. I feel like I'm renting.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: "Lunch Break"

Flash Fiction Friday has a challenge this week where we are to write a story given one of two first lines. My entry is called "Lunch Break".

“You know Javier, poets say that in the spring a young man’s thoughts turn to love, but I think they’re wrong.”

Her colleague turned to her, egg salad sandwich in hand. "Well, I can tell you one thing- they certainly don't turn to thoughts of geometry."

She laughed, a high, soft sound. "Nobody's thoughts turn to that, Javier." She ate a spoonful of raspberry yogurt. At the other end of the table, the head of the history department, John Samuelson, ruffled the pages of his newspaper.

"Mine do," he said calmly. "Ptolemy's. Pythagoras'."

She chuckled again. "That's the only ones."

"So what do young men turn their thoughts to, then?" He took another bite of his sandwich.

"I've never been a young man," she said. "Why don't you tell me?"

"Oh, I agree with the poets. Love, definitely."

"Not sex? They are two different things, you know."

He looked at her strangely, like he had never seen her before.

"That's true. One has more letters."

"Always the geometer," she said, smiling. "Measuring the world."

"I don't know how else to describe it," he said to her. She was scraping her spoon along the bottom of the plastic yogurt container.

"The world? How about art? Music? Dance? Literature? There's more to life than theorems, Javier. You just said it- young men's thoughts turning to love. What do your ancient Greeks and your protractors have to say about that?"

"Oh, they had lots to say, you know that." He pointed to a framed picture on the wall, a Degas print. "Look at the curve of the dancer's calf, the arch of her back. There's geometry all around you. Math can be beautiful. You just have to know to look for it."

She stood up, brushing a few crumbs from the front of her print dress. He watched her in silence.

"All I know is, the young men in my classes are sex crazed. You hear them talk- it's all braggadocio about who they're going to do, who they did, who's doing what to who. No talk of love."

"News flash, Janine: they are men."

"We were never like that in our day."

Javier barked out a laugh. "You weren't, maybe. We were. All men are."

"Not all men. You're not like that."

"I grew up," he said, finishing his sandwich and crumpling up the plastic wrap. "But underneath? On some level? All men are like that."

She put her hands on her hips. "What are you trying to say?," she said, frowning.

The newspaper at the end of the table rustled shut. Samuelson spoke in a gravelly voice. "He's saying he wants to sleep with you."

The air was tense. "Do you?," she asked.

"Of course I do," Javier said. "I want to sleep with every woman I see, to some degree. I don't, because I'm married, and because it's wrong, and because my wife would cut my head off in my sleep if I did. But we all want to. Wanting to is just part of being men. As we get older, we just learn to hide it better."

"You make it sound like men are one step removed from animals," she said.

"I'm not positive it's a full step," he said.

"I don't understand men at all," she said, throwing her yogurt container away.

The bell sounded, meaning they had to go to their next class. "Don't worry. We don't understand ourselves, either," Samuelson said to her back.

"Call Me Immediately" (IndieInk Writing Challenge)

This week's Indie Ink Challenge came from Andrea, who gave me this prompt:"and the anger was smoothed again by a breaking bone". I challenged Head Ant with the prompt "Can I take your order?".

Emergency rooms are always the same: lots of motion and sound, but very purposeful. People in colored pants and shirts are moving back and forth, talking firmly but quietly. Ringing telephones, beeping equipment, clipboards and computers and bags of clear fluid. Someone was bringing trays off of a tall cart and delivering them to a few people behind blue curtains. It smelled like the trays had some variety of baked chicken on them.

"She in here, sah" the pretty woman with the deep black hair said as she held the curtain aside to let him through. She had an accent that he couldn't place exactly, but it sounded Caribbean. Inside he saw his wife, sitting on a hard hospital chair, actively flicking at the screen of her phone. He was so keyed up he forgot to thank her.

"What is it? What happened?," he asked her excitedly.

"Settle down, Parker," she said distractedly, intent on the tiny screen. "She's fine. Just a field hockey accident. She may have broken her arm."

"But," he sputtered, his anxiety sliding into anger at her nonchalance, "you used the code!"

They both had occupations that did not always allow the acceptance of telephone calls, so they adopted a shorthand system of text messaging to quickly communicate essential ideas. "PUD" was "Pick Up Dinner," meaning the sender was too tired to cook. "PUP" was "Pick Up Prescription," etc. The code she had sent 95 long minutes ago was "CM-911", meaning, "Call me immediately, it's an emergency." The last time she had sent that, she was in the middle of delivering their stillborn son. His frantic phonecalls to her were ignored, her only reply being a text saying simply, "Ewing Hospital ER".

"It was the only way I could get you to come," she said icily.

He opened and closed his mouth without saying anything. He couldn't think of anything useful to say to that. Yes, it had made him come, but that didn't mean...

"Kelly, I was right in the middle of..."

"Do shut up, Parker. You're always in the middle of something. And you know what? It's never as important as you say it is. So shut up and sit here and wait for your daughter."

He felt the tension along his back. He wanted to punch someone, to yell. "Where is she?"

"They took her for X rays. I told them I would wait here for you."

She was typing away on her phone's tiny screen. Along with her day job as an assistant to a City Council member, she was the head of the Horticultural Society, and was constantly rearranging, delegating, ordering and confirming. He liked to joke that he had to email her to have sex. Somewhere on the other side of the curtain, some of the staff started laughing at a joke one of them had told.

"Kel, I was really worried. I thought something had happened. I thought we agreed you wouldn't use that code unless..."

"Oh, Parker," she said, distracted. "You're such a drama queen sometimes."

His wife's legs were primly crossed, one modest heel bobbing slightly as she typed. He understood very little, but at times like this he felt like he understood nothing at all, like the first time he went to Helsinki by himself. He remembered wondering if everyone was talking about him, and secretly suspecting that they were.

The curtain parted and a man and a woman in identical green scrubs pushed her inside the room in a wheelchair. They all could smell the grass and sweat from her clothes. She had eyeblack on next to her pert nose, and her hair pulled into a single greasy ponytail with a yellow tie, her left arm in a tan sling, and her full uniform- skirt, knee socks, spikes, and dirty uniform top with her number, 24, near one shoulder. Marissa had a faraway look on her angelic face. She looked almost comical, all suited up for battle inside this cement and fabric square.

"I'm going to let the doctor tell you for sure, but I'd bet my life it's broken," the woman said. She had dark brown skin and black hair, and spoke like an Oxford don.

"Oh, yeah," the man chimed in, a redhead with blooms of bright red on each cheek. "It's busted for sure."

They helped Marissa up into the bed, where she regarded her two parents uncertainly, like she couldn't recognize them. He felt offended at the notion her precious arm now hanging useless and broken from her neck, the arm he had protected and nurtured and fed for so many years, that arm that used to be flung around his neck with unrestrained joy when he came home. He felt like he could see the two ends of the bone, discontinuous now where they had always been so solid.

"Daddy!," she said after pausing for too many seconds. "You came! Momma said you wouldn't. She said you'd be too busy!" She didn't sound like herself- no painstakingly constructed, logical sentences, no breathless wonder of conspiratorial talk with a friend. She sounded like a little girl, like she had at 8 when she would throw a fit if she couldn't accompany him on the shortest errand.

"Did you give her something for the pain?," he asked the woman.

"You can't tell?," she observed before the two parted the curtain and left.

"It doesn't hurt, honey?," he said to his daughter.

"Oh, no, Daddy. No. It doesn't hurt," she said dreamily.

"So what happened?," he said to her. He pulled the sheet up to cover her dirty knees.

"To what?" she asked.

"Your arm, baby." His wife pecked away on her phone's keyboard, oblivious.

"Oh that? I broked it, Daddy," she said, erupting in a fit of giggles. "I was playing field hockey, and then Shannon just, like, fell on it. And it broke."

He looked at her laughing, her head thrown back. He had stopped treating her like a little girl years ago, watching the two of them retreat into an armed camp, isolating him. Conversations ended when he came in the room, with glances and laughter marking where words once stood. He would ask his wife later what it was, and she would dismiss it idly. "It's just girl talk, Parker. Never you mind about it." He remembered previous visits they had made under these flourescents, a bout of vomiting that wouldn't stop when she was three, a twisted knee after a skateboard mishap at nine, and, of course, the death of his son.

His wife stood up, her business evidently concluded. "They said she collided with two other girls. They went down in a heap and one of the other girls just fell on her wrong. Listen, Parker. I'm starving. Why don't you go get some dinner and meet us at home? I can wait for the doctor as well as you can." His wife had an expectant look, like she was surprised he hadn't left already. She was used to being obeyed, listened to, respected.

He opened his mouth again, then closed it. He stepped forward and planted a kiss on his daughter's forehead. He could taste the salt of her sweat. She wasn't the little girl who idolized him anymore- she was headstrong and beautiful, confident and strong, with a woman's body and her mother's steel trap of a mind.

"I'll get some pizza and see you guys at home then," he said, backing away from the two of them. His wife looked at him. "Goodbye, Daddy," his daughter said. She hadn't called him that since grade four.

He walked through the curtain and back out through the maelstrom to his car. He had a brief, vivid image of himself taking his cell phone from his pocket and going into a full windup and just heaving it into the pavement in front of him. He could picture it shattering, precious metal connections shattering and rare metal alloys now so much shiny junk. But he'd have to explain that to them, and he couldn't imagine saying something that would not brand him a lunatic.

He called up the pizza place on his contact list, hit the button and watched the phone do its magic. While he waited for them to pick up, he wondered if there was any beer left in the fridge.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Report For Duty

Chuck Wendig, the irascible penmonkey and Yo Yo King, has a new post time for the Terrible Minds Challenge this week, Monday. This week's challenge is to write a story in three sentences. My entry is called "Report For Duty".

“There’s got to be some way to get out of this town without joining the Army,” Julia said.
I tucked the letter into my back pocket as I looked at the soft brown hair framing her face.
“Got to be,” I said.