Friday, May 11, 2012

Trifecta Writing Challenge: "Biology Be Damned"

My triangle obsessed friends in the land of Trifecta have a simple, yet very complicated, challenge this weekend: in only 33 words, write a story, with one of the words being "mother". This is called "Biology Be Damned"

Someday, Claire thought as her stepdaughter Anne stomped up the stairs, you'll learn that the woman who holds you when some small cruelty breaks your heart is your mother, biology be damned.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Flash Fiction Friday: "The Hurricane"

My fine, possibly feathered, friends at Flash Fiction Friday have challenged us to write about meeting the parents. I looked at the prompt a little differently, and what emerged is this, which I call "The Hurricane".

Shari looked at the hostess, a tall, slim woman with her hair pulled smartly back into a ballet dancer's bun. We probably look like the letter "b", she thought.

"Mr. Thompson said he was running a little late, and he'd be right along. Can I start you with a drink?," the woman said. She was dressed all in black- blouse, skirt, long, opaque tights and heels. Her makeup was a little overdone, making her look a bit skeletal. Shari felt a pang of envy at her flat stomach and visible hipbones.
Shari's mouth was dry. She cleared her throat softly. "Mineral water, please. With lemon."

"Right away," she said, bustling off.

Shari pulled the chair out farther, then sat down, arranging herself as best she could in her borrowed dress. She could feel the eyes of other diners on her. That was one of the many things she would not miss. Along with the aching back, the intense emotional waves, the sore feet and ill fitting clothes, she would not miss the feeling of being on stage. No matter where she walked, she felt their judgement. No ring. No accompanying male. "Tramp," she felt them thinking. That, or something worse.

They didn't understand. Nobody did. Only somebody who had been through it would understand, and most people who did wouldn't talk about it. They couldn't grasp her inner life, the way she had punished herself a thousand times over for a moment's weakness. They didn't know how fervently she wished it to be untrue, prayed she could somehow put the genie back in the bottle and undo this. She felt their gaze, preying on her roundness, seeing her young face and coming to conclusions, calling her heedless and wanton and foolish inside their perfectly ordered lives, not realizing they couldn't call her anything she hadn't called herself, with sheets balled in her fists as pain or nausea was her only companion through a sleepless night.

The whole process she had informally named the "Hurricane of Suck," the single, stupid act leading to weeks of wishing it wasn't so. When it became too obvious for her to deny, she checked out her options, but she simply couldn't do what everyone else did, and before too much longer, her fate was sealed. She saw a phone number in the back of a magazine, called it, and was brought into the protective embrace of Hank Thompson, Esquire.
What followed was blizzards of phone calls and emails, forms and more forms, letters and photos to review, and finally, at long last, this dinner. Shari tried to beg off, and Mr. Thompson had made it clear to her that she didn't have to come. But in the end, she agreed to his pleas, and she was sitting here, watching the faces circulate around here, wondering which one would be them.

A young man came up with a glass tumbler of water with lemon stuck on the rim. His voice was sweet, with a hint of Spanish at the edges. Her heart pounded for a moment, gazing at his strong features and olive skin. Then Shari reminded herself who she was, and more importantly, how she looked and what she was.

"Water for you, miss?," he said smoothly.

"Yes, thank you," she said. She felt woefully underdressed. When she wasn't in sweatpants, she survived on what she could borrow and Goodwill. She was wearing a dress that her overweight friend Liz found too loose, a blue one with faint white stripes, and the only shoes that still fit, faded espadrilles. Shari thought about the goddess who sat her, and this statue as well. Was everyone who worked here beautiful?

"Would you like some bread until your party arrives?"

"That would be fine," she said, pretending to be calm.

The waiter whisked off, wearing all black as well, and Shari watched him walk. God, she thought. What I wouldn't do to not

She thought about bolting again. She didn't really want to meet these people. She would see their faces before she closed her eyes every night, wondering if her boy was OK with these strangers. Was he warm? Happy? Sad? Safe? Brave? Did they teach him about life? Bake cookies for his class? What were they doing at 3:30 in the afternoon? She felt out of place, like everyone was staring. She felt panicky, the thought of simply walking out consuming her, just walking straight to the bus stop, then riding back to her room. Then crying, no doubt, crying until her shudders faded into a restless sleep. Sleep. The only thing she really enjoyed these days.

Shari sipped the water. The lemon lent it a tiny edge of sourness. There were days water was all she could stand, but her stomach growled in response to the coldness. Today wasn't one of those days. She was suddenly ravenous, and she felt a stirring inside of her, followed by a solid thump of a kick. She took another sip, and then another. OK, Thompson, she was beginning to tell herself, if you're not here by the time I finish this, I'm out of here.

Just then she saw his face, his graying hair plastered straight back with gel. He was always smiling. Shari wondered just how he could manage that as she began to extricate herself from her seat.

"Shari! So glad you made it! This is-," the lawyer began.

"Oh, sweetie, don't get up!," a woman said, coming around over Thompson's right shoulder. Her hair was cut short, almost like a boy, and she was wearing a suit with a long navy skirt and a soft creamy blouse. "I'm Janet, and this is my husband Mike, and-"

Shari started to sit back down. The woman gasped.

"Oh, honey. You're so beautiful. You're just- you're GLOWING!," she said loud enough for everyone to hear. Shari had heard the word before, but never in reference to herself. The older woman fluttered and cooed, asking questions without waiting for the answers.

"Now, Jan," Mike said. His voice was smooth and buttery, suitable for his classic good looks. He smiled, showing laugh lines. "Back off! You're going to scare the poor girl!"

Nonplussed, she continued, "But I just want you to know, hun, that we are just so overwhelmingly grateful that you would do this for us-"

Shari sat down, her vision beginning to blur. Janet was continuing to talk, and Shari was aware enough to be able to nod and smile earnestly. Was she doing it for them? For herself? Who was this about, anyway? Becoming pregnant wasn't something she did, it was something that happened, and she was dealing with it the best way she could. Shari looked at the two adults' faces, beaming with an inner light, grateful for something she was giving them, and something they were taking from her.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Terrible Minds Challenge: "Doom In The Sky"

Former presidential candidate Chuck Wendig issues his flash fiction call to arms this week in a saurian vein. All stories must involve dinosaurs. This is called "Doom In The Sky".

Watching a child in a museum crowd reminds me of my days playing high school basketball, when I was taught to use peripheral vision and constantly track both one's opponent and the ball. It's a peculiar routine, tracking exhibits with one eye and a child with another. As my chemistry teacher Mr. Turner always told us, when you're doing two things at once, you're doing one or both of them badly, and I was having trouble noticing any of the displays because I was preoccupied with tracking Dylan's mop of brown hair.

We were stopped in front of a dinosaur display, a giant T. Rex looming over both of us. My sister, pregnant and exhausted, begged me to take my nephew somewhere, anywhere, so I drove into the city to take him to the museum. "And I don't want him coming home with any gifts," she said as we left, but she always said that, and I never listened. Dylan was hard to say no to, and I wasn't inclined to do so in any case.

I knew the T. Rex was a rough approximation of what they actually looked like, steel and plaster and paint constructing a facsimile of a creature that could have stood here 65 million years ago. I remembered reading somewhere that they were probably more tropical beasts, but then again, the climate was different then. I always wondered how aware they really were. They almost certainly operated on a more basic level- just feed, and excrete, and reproduce. Then repeat. I envied the simplicity sometimes.

The crowd swirled and boiled around us- boys chased girls, girls chased boys. Parents gossiped, occasionally pausing to yell a command that wasn't heeded. A slim girl beamed as she held the hand of a rough looking boy, who seemed embarassed but secretly pleased. Young looking museum employees in blue polo shirts walked around aimlessly, preventing outright destruction while privately flirting with one another. It was humanity, caged in, surrounded by the history of everything on the planet.

"I like T. Rex," Dylan declared.

"You do?," I asked. "You're not scared of them?"

"Nope," he said. "Dinosaurs aren't real."

Not any more, they're not. "They aren't real now. But they used to be."


How to explain a time span of millions of years to someone who finds it hard to wait from lunch until dinner?

"A long time ago."

"When you were a baby?"

Ouch, kid.

"Longer than that, pal. Before anyone you know was born."

"Wow," he said admiringly. "Like a kabillion years?"

"Yeah, about that."

"Can we go get ice cream?" He shifted gears like nobody's business. Take care of a root need- hunger.

It had to be easier to be a dinosaur, blissfully unaware that your time as master of the planet was short? No appointments, no schedules, no unemployment checks, no worries about your ex girlfriend or your novel that won't sell. Just acting, letting your primordial drives take the wheel. "Just do, don't think," Coach Turner would tell us. How much of my behavior was instinct, my lizard brain still running the show, my genetic heritage cutting through the clutter of society and decorum. I know Richard Dawkins would argue that I was a slave to my genes, acting to protect my nephew so that my genetic heritage, encoded in his tiny cells, would carry on. Even if I was only protecting him from an afternoon of Spongebob reruns.

"Of course we can, buddy. Don't tell Mom, OK?"

"Sure," he agreed. I knew he would tell her anyway, and I knew he would show her whatever trinket or stuffed animal he came home with. He hadn't learned to lie, which made him both endearing and dangerous.   

I took his hand, and we walked through the maelstrom, his trust in me innocent and absolute. He knew nothing bad would happen as long as he held on. And nothing would, if I had anything to say about it. There were comets on the way, later on, that would disrupt everything he knew. Things like death, and heartbreak, and sadness; but for now, walking along with me, following the signs for the cafeteria, he was as unaware as a T.Rex, munching away on greenery as doom lights the sky behind him.