Saturday, May 26, 2012

100 Word Challenge: "Don't Look At Me"

The redoubtable Velvet Verbosity, just back from scoring an overtime goal to send the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals, issued a 100 Word Challenge this week centering on the word "spectacle". This is called "Don't Look At Me".

Thin, pretty Catherine hated spectacle. Don't make a fuss, she thought. Don't notice me, don't point at me, don't talk about me. Just pretend I'm not here. When the ebullient secretary Judy sent a company wide notice that it was Catherine's birthday, she cringed, expecting a tidal wave of well wishes and forced conversations. As the day proceeded and the silence deepened, Catherine wondered if she had finally forced her way out of everyone's life, as she said she wanted.

She didn't start crying until she finally left for home that night.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Terrible Minds Challenge: "Flint Smoke"

Our pal Chuck Wendig left BabyTown long enough to issue a challenge, titling a 1000 word story with a color lifted from a list of paint colors. This is called "Flint Smoke"

"What's that 'smoke' song you played in the car?," Rose said.

" 'Smoke On The Water'? 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes'? 'Smokin' In The Boys' Room'? " I was smiling as I said it. I was being obtuse, and she knew it.

"No, no," she said. She was sitting on my couch, her knees pulled up to her chin, wrapping her arms around her bony ankles. I looked at her legs, trim and beautiful, but starting to thicken with age. I didn't care. I liked that she had more mass now. It made her more corporeal, more earthbound.

"The one where he says he can smell the smoke." She was watching me toss the Caesar salad I was preparing. Her eyes, which looked flint gray in the fading sunlight, were following me intently.

"That's Ben Folds. It's called 'Smoke'."

"Yeah, that one," she said. She turned her head to look at the stereo. It was silver, expensive, and looked like it was from the future. Van Morrison purred from the speakers.

"At the end of the song, he says 'you keep on saying the past is not even past/and you keep on saying/we are smoke.' " The oven dinged, and she watched me spin, put on oven mitts, and remove the garlic bread, pale yellow and white on a dented silver tray.

"It reminded me of what Dr. Almond said about Faulkner. How he said 'the past is never dead,' " she continued. She was looking down at her bare toes.

I didn't say anything. I was laying out silverware, delivering plates of hot pasta and sauce, putting the garlic bread slices into a basket. She was watching me. She had already asked to help, but the kitchen was too small.

"Then he said, 'it's not even past,' " I added. She unfolded from the couch to come to the table. She didn't dance any more, but she still moved with that smooth, leonine grace. I watched her move.

"Yeah," she said. She added some garlic bread to her plate, and served herself some salad. I poured her a glass of wine.

"Do you feel like your past is....past?," she said. I served myself, watching her chew a bite of salad.

"I tend to follow Rafiki's advice. I keep my behind in my past." I took a bite of bread. It was too hot, but it felt good, melted butter and hot, stringy bread. The sun was coming through the window, making the spoons and forks shine.

"Rafiki?," she said.

" 'The Lion King,' " I said. "The monkey. Robert Guilliaume."

"Oh yeah," she said. She said that sometimes when she didn't know what I was talking about.

"Do you you you ever wish you were younger?," she said. I looked over at her shoes, silver flats that had been covered with glitter. They looked like the shoes someone would wear if she wanted attention.

"No," I said. "It's hard enough being the age I am. Do you?"

She chewed a bite of pasta and swallowed. "Sometimes. I wish I was still dancing. It used to make me feel so important, so alive. People counted on me. I wish I were that girl again, the one who hadn't made any big mistakes yet."

"I think you're important now," I said. I finished off my glass of wine and poured another one.

"Thank you," she said. "I think you're important too." She sliced through a piece of meat in the sauce, and it cut easier than she thought, since the knife sliced right through and scraped against the plate. It was an angry sound.

"Why are you thinking about the past?," I asked.

"It's easier than thinking about the future." I could hear a siren in the distance, since I had left the windows open.

"Fire truck," she said. The child of a firefighter, she could always tell. She looked over the top of the trees. She raised her thin arm, pointing. "See?," she said. A tendril of grayish whiteness was rising above the trees. It looked like the pulled apart cotton balls I used to glue onto model kits. I thought about the old Don Henley lyric, "Somebody's going to emergency, somebody's going to jail."

"I think you have a bright future," I said. "You're smart, you're funny, you're pretty, you're-"

"I'm not anything," she said, cutting me off. "I'm nothing. I want to disappear. " Her eyes swam with tears. It made her eyes look almost blue. "Like in that song. I'm smoke."

"I don't think that's true," I said. "Jeannie likes you, and Professor Fitzpatrick, and..."

"I'm not anything," she repeated. "I'm not. I'm just....I'm not anything to anyone. I'm smoke," she said flatly.

She got up, pushing in her chair neatly, then went into the bathroom, closing and locking the door. She turned the exhaust fan on, which probably meant she was crying. I took another bite of salad and chewed it, listening to the sound of my own teeth grinding, loud inside my head. Outside, the sirens got closer, then stopped. There was another, farther off sound, which was either another engine responding, or some other emergency.

There was always another problem.