Monday, December 26, 2011

Check, Please! (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

"I think they need this table," he said.

Their waitress, a round hipped redhead with stray ringlets loose over her ears, was indeed hovering nearby, waiting for tables to clear so she could refill them. The cafe was small, but clean and airy, the gold fixtures and muted tans and browns making it look old fashioned without being stuffy. It was full to bursting here in the middle of the lunch hour.

"Maybe we should go," she said.

Lunch was safe, a way station between meeting and dating. Work obligations beckoned on the other side, leaving a clear time limitation on their evening. It also removed the classic end of date question of whether he would ask about sex. And how she would reply.

"We should," he said, reaching for his wallet.

It was hard to know the etiquette. In an age where she could make more than he does, it was archaic and silly to insist on paying, but he still tried. A man pays, his father used to tell him, in a tone that implied it was ever thus.

"Let me," she said, pulling her purse in front of her body.

Never owe anyone, Aunt Sara told her from the time she played with Barbies and boys were just the schoolmates with shorter hair. And especially never let a man buy you anything. They always want something in return. It was 10 years before she understood that, and 5 more before she started to believe it.

"I can't let you pay," he said, rifling through his bills. "It was my sister's idea."

It was Jane, with her huge glasses and infectious, almost annoying bonhomie, that insisted that the new girl hired in her office would be just perfect for her only unmarried sibling. She badgered the two of them in turn, dismissing their demurrals and denials until they mutually concurred, both of them concluding that she wouldn't stop until they did.

"I can pay my own way," she said softly, fumbling in her bag.

She made sure she had both cash and cards before she left that morning. She was prepared to pay for the whole thing, while she would be insulted if she had to.

"I had a great time," he said, taking out a twenty.

It was interminable, he thought. She didn't eat, and she wouldn't talk, making it impossible for him to know what she thought or how she felt. He was willing to pay for both of them, if only he could get away from her and stop talking about himself.

"Oh, I did, too," she said, drawing out her own bill.

He was fascinating, she thought, with so many funny stories about clients and colleagues. She made all the right moves, letting him talk, fluttering and making the appropriate sounds. She listened, trying not to interject, not wanting to say too much, not wanting to turn him off. That was the rule, right? You let them talk, let them lead and control the conversation. Flatter them, make them feel important. He looked great in a trim gray suit, and she already felt the stirrings. If this was an evening meal, she would be taking him home. Eagerly.

"Let's split it," he said, agreeing quickly.

Please just let this be over, he thought.

"How much is it?," she said.

Three summers waiting tables made her a good tipper. She didn't want to seem over generous, but she wanted the waitress with the green eyes to like her, while at the same time be envious of the funny, charming man across from her. She also remembered the aching legs and feet, the jealousy when a well dressed woman sat down with a man you wanted for yourself.

He held the bill so she could see.

"Forty should do it," he said.

He was already thinking about the office, the meeting that he had that afternoon. He was mentally aligning strategies, marshaling arguments as he waited for her twenty to join his. He was relieved that he wouldn't be obligated to rehash and overinterpret the lunch for a circle of friends the way she probably would.

"Absolutely," she said.

She stood up, watching the lines of his suit fall into place as he stood. She fussed at her hemline, arranging her skirt so it fell evenly. She could feel the tug, the yearning and worry beginning to creep in. Would he call? How soon? Did it go as well as she felt it did? Was this the beginning of something?

"Let's let them clear this away," he said.

Thank God this isn't the beginning of something, he thought. He made eye contact with the waitress, who started to make her way towards them, eyes on the closed leather folder. He appraised her curves in the utilitarian black they wore. No question she would have made a more interesting lunch date.

"Sure!," she said cheerfully.

She followed him as they wended their way towards the front door. Would they walk to their cars together? Where was he parked? She concentrated on her stride for a moment, trying to strike a balance between sexy sway and uptight repression. They came to the front door, and he started to head left, she noted sadly. She was parked two streets down on the right.

"Pleasure meeting you," he said.

He was starting to turn away. He was already weighing approaches, thinking about how to overcome Nancy's objections to the new plans. The lunch was already over in his mind as he wiped away the memory of her ridiculous flirtation. You had to bring something to the table, and she just made him carry the whole lunch. He filled in all the blanks in the conversation, inserting words into the silences while she grinned at him stupidly. He wanted to meet a companion, a whole person with hopes and dreams and aspirations, not a parrot.

"Oh, yes! You, too!," she said. "See you!"

She turned down towards her car, walking carefully and firmly. She wondered if he was looking back at her. She hoped so, but didn't want to turn and see. Friday, she thought. Friday would be the perfect, logical day for him to ask her out again. She started mentally reviewing her options for what to wear Friday night.

"See you," he echoed.

You won't, he thought. He made his way up the street, reaching for his keys in his pocket. What a disaster this was, he thought as he went. What was her name again? Maura? Laura? Something, he thought. Thank heavens I don't have to sit through anything with her ever again.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kirsten Doyle challenged me with "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.(Douglas Adams)" and I challenged Crosshaven Harpist with "When you begin each day by describing the look of the same mountain, you are living in the grip of delusion.(Thomas Merton)".

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Raining In Baltimore (Flash Fiction Friday Challenge)

For the final Flash Fiction Friday of 2011, the redoubtable Thomas Pluck challenges us to echo the great Tom Waits and create anatomically correct fiction, including a song, weather, the name of a town, and something to eat. Here's my contribution, "It's Raining In Baltimore". (Bonus points if you pick up the OTHER lyric included in the story.)

"It's raining in Baltimore," she said. Bits of her hair were hanging down in front of her face. She was looking down into the display of her phone. It was sitting next to a bowl of chicken soup, which was steaming up her glasses. She didn't pause to wipe them.

"That's poetic," I said.

"That's pathetic," she said. She looked out the window through the fogged up lenses. It was gray and blustery, with spitting, insignificant rain, what my friend Gordon calls "a good day for a murder."

I stirred my coffee aimlessly. She said she didn't feel like eating, but I needed coffee and I figured it would be less odd looking if we both had something.

"We can't keep running like this," she said. "We're going to run out of money."

"I know."

"I don't even have any underwear with me," she said.

"I know."

"I mean, I appreciate this. I do. I don't want you to think I'm not grateful."

"I understand," I said.

"But I can't stop thinking about it. Where are we going? What's the plan?"

"I'm not sure quite yet," I said. My Uncle Barry, the family member most accustomed to calamity, lived outside Salisbury. I didn't know anyone who could handle a crying, disheveled woman appearing at your door in the middle of the day, but he came the closest.

She sipped at the soup delicately. "Why are you doing this?," she asked carefully.

"I couldn't live with myself any more. Knowing you're with him, knowing he treats you like that- I couldn't stand it any longer."

"But he loves me," she said softly, almost in a whisper. The bruise mushrooming around her right eye looked almost green under the fluorescent lights inside the diner. The rain began to fall a little more determinedly, making a murmur of sound against the window.

"He might," I admitted. "Somewhere under there, he might. But the way he treats you, it's mixed up with anger and alcoholism and who knows what. You need to get away from him, and you know he'd find you if you stayed at my place."

"But what if he asks you where I am?"

"I'll tell him I don't know."

"But what if he insists?"

"I'll keep telling him I don't know."

"He can be very convincing," she said, looking down into her soup again.

"So can I," I said, trying to make it sound heroic.

The third time that I heard her in the hall, stumbling and moaning, I told her when I took her in to dress her wounds and listen to her tears that I wasn't going to let him keep doing that. The next time was about 4 hours ago. I grabbed the bag I had packed and took her down to my car. She stopped crying by the time we got to the interstate, but we hadn't really talked until we sat down at this roadside cafe. The waitress was hovering uncertainly, wanting to make sure we paid. I reached into my duffel bag and set a ten dollar bill where she could see it.

"So where are we going?," she asked.

"I'm going to wait a few more hours, then I'm going to call my uncle Barry. He lives in Maryland. He's had 4 kids, so he's used to taking in strays."

"Then what?"

"I don't really know."

"You didn't think this through, did you?"

"Not really," I admitted. "I just couldn't breathe, knowing you were going to go back to him and get treated like that. I can't stand seeing someone so precious be treated so shabbily."

"I'm not precious," she said, looking down. She was quiet for a long time.

"Ready to go?," I suggested. I had sucked down all the coffee I could stand.

"No," she said. "But we'd better leave."

I stood up from the table, nodding at the waitress. The rain was falling lightly again, making spots on the window, turning the streetlights into blurred, fantastic visions.

She was still sitting at the table. "What am I going to do?," she said softly.

"I don't know," I said truthfully. "First we get you someplace safe. We'll figure out Step Two once we nail down Step One."

"That's not very reassuring."

"I know. But sometimes you just have to do the first right thing you see."

Monday, December 19, 2011

Who Played Who (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

It came back to me in fragments, like it was a movie. I knew it had really happened, but I could only see bits of it at a time. A still image, and then another, and impressionistic bursts of sound and motion. I didn't want to open my eyes. I knew I'd have to eventually. I could feel that she was there, even smell the presence of a body that wasn't mine, so I knew what had happened, generally. But it was all hazy in the specifics.

Last night I had played the wingman, the time honored male role of running interference with a girl's friend, drawing their fire while your mate goes in for the kill. I wasn't proud of it, but Henry had been there for me, and more importantly, I still owed him 200 bucks when the stupid Buccaneers didn't cover the spread. So when he asked me to run interference for him, I agreed.

The club was one we hadn't been to before, but it was like most of those places, dark and loud and crowded. I followed Henry through the crowd, being jostled and bumped along the way. He had promised a nursing student that he would meet her here tonight. We made our way to her, and indeed, she was every bit as cute as Henry had promised- a pert nosed blond with a hard little body and a thin, silvery top. There was a scowling brunette next to her, slightly thicker and trying too hard to out dress her prettier friend, wearing a black dress that was too tight and shoes that were too high.

We broke into the usual routine, trying to start conversations, making dumb little puns and gentle compliments. They played the only cards they had, feigned indifference. We performed like a script had been written for us, dancing when they wanted to dance, keeping the drinks flowing, letting them have their conferences when they needed to debate their plans. It was an elaborate charade. We knew what we wanted, and they knew what we wanted. The trick was getting them to do what we wanted without asking. Asking was too forward, and if we asked, they couldn't let themselves accept. I oozed charm and sincerity, feeling them yield to our agenda gradually.

It worked quicker and easier than it had any right to. Maybe I was getting too good at this. We had them in a cab with us, laughing and smiling, heading back to our place, and then we separated, the comely blond slipping away with Henry, and her friend, who I now knew as Corrine, followed me into my room. In the more natural light of our apartment, I could see she was prettier than the club lights gave her credit for. She had a splash of freckles across her nose, and a very shapely body, and some reddish highlights in her hair. I didn't want to, but I didn't not want to. This was the awkward part.

She was sitting on my bed, sliding her stilettos off. I was hanging my jacket in the closet. I looked back at her. Her face was a mask, with a slightly quizzical smile. Her toes were pointed at me as she flexed and stretched what must have been aching feet.

"You don't have to do this," I began. "I don't want you to...,"

"Oh, no," she interrupted. "I know what's going on here."

"I can sleep on the couch," I offered.

"Nope," she said. "No way. You're sleeping with me. Tonight."

I was taken aback. "What?"

"I know what you are. You're the wingman. Your buddy macks on her, and you take the bullet by taking me instead. I'm not stupid."

"I didn't say you were, I...,"

"Women are a lot smarter than you think. I know the code," she said. "You're going to."

This was a twist. "What if I don't want to?"

She leaned back, crossing her legs slowly in front of her. "Am I that bad looking?"

"No, no. You're fine." She was. But something was a little off. I wasn't used to not being in charge.

"OK, then. We're doing this. Or I go knock on your buddy's door and we both leave. I have needs too. This is the only way I get anything, from taking Erin's seconds. You think girls don't have wingmen, too?"

She stood up in bare feet and turned her back to me. "Unzip me," she said. I felt ashamed, but not so ashamed that I didn't do as she asked.

From there, things progressed. She was good, but like pepperoni pizza, I've never had one that was any worse than pleasant. I had fallen asleep at some point, and so had she. I shifted my weight, and I heard her make a little mewling sound, like a cat, and I felt her burrow a little deeper into the bed. I could see her cheek and her ear where they peeked out from an opening. Her skin was flushed with exertion, or perhaps dehydration. She was cute in the morning, I had to admit that. I felt a tiny bit of sorrow. Her eyes fluttered. I wondered what she might be dreaming about.

I hoped Henry's night was more predictable than mine had been. As I laid in the tangle of sheets and limbs, afraid to move, knitting the night's events together, I wondered just who had played who.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Stefan challenged me with "Maybe I was too smooth" and I challenged Chaos Mandy with "Shelter from the storm".

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Award Show (The Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

It was profoundly uncomfortable in every way, which made it doubly difficult to keep the smile plastered on my face. They told you over and over, smile, always smile, because you never know when the camera may be on you. And God knows, you don't want to seem ungracious. But strapped into compression undergarments, wobbly heels, and a dress that barely let me breathe, it was an effort of will to continue pretending.

I uncrossed my legs, then recrossed them the other way. I could feel the elastic tug as I twisted. It was a relief to finally get here, the entire day consumed by fittings and appointments and girlie nonsense. It reminded me of going into labor, because everything was about you, yet you're not in control of any of it. It was oddly quiet for such a large crowd, people either couldn't talk or were afraid to.

I wanted more than anything else to sneak out and get a cigarette, but I knew it was almost time for my award to be announced. I had been consumed by the preparations and instructions, the matching of shoes and purse and earrings, the advice on who to talk to, the hair and the makeup. As much as I wanted to know if we would get it or not, I wanted to get this over with and get home.

It was the unwritten rule. You can't admit that you want one, while the truth is that everyone does. That's not what I do it for. I create because I can't do anything else. I spent the entire year making the film because I loved it, because it consumed me. I make movies to get paid, and I make movies to get recognized by my peers, but mostly I make movies, like the old joke says, because I can't sing or dance.

There was definitely a sense of competition. You know what others are up to through the rumor mill, and part of you is fueled by wanting to do it better than them. But it's mostly just the beauty, you want to make this golden, perfect idea come through, realize it on film as clearly and perfectly as you can. You don't know how it will be received, and on some level, you don't care- you want it to be as good as you can make it.

I turned my head the other way, feeling the tugs and pulls of the dress against me. I wasn't delusional enough to think I was beautiful. There were much younger, much more beautiful starlets everywhere, the fuel of a thousand fantasies. I probably got a few nasty comments online as I walked in, but I had to admit: I have never felt more beautiful, more fussed over and assembled and put together. As uncomfortable as it was, the whole evening had the aura of magic.

I had made up my mind, when I learned we were nominated, that I was not going to worry about whether or not we got it. As one of our producers mentioned when we were talking about it, if we did, it instantly becomes the first line of your obituary. I wanted it, of course. All of us did. But I wouldn't be crushed if we didn't.

My body seemed to disagree as they came back from commercial. I sat up a little straighter, pushing my stockinged feet down into my shoes. I grabbed my clutch purse a little tighter. This was it, my whole life could change in the next few seconds. My heart pounded as I realized I was lying to myself. I wanted it, more than I wanted anything else in my life. I plastered on the fake smile, concentrating on maintaining my face as neutral as possible.

"...the Oscar goes to...," I heard, the sounds of the envelope loud in my ears.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Hannah challenged me with "The way to get things done is to stimulate competition. I do not mean in a sordid, money grubbing way, but in the desire to excel-Charles Schwab" and I challenged Wendryn with "The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful".

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

That Was The Thing (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

It was polite. That was the thing. The stupid machine displayed the message, in ancient looking glowing green phosphor, "SORRY! TRANSACTION UNABLE TO BE PERFORMED AT THIS TIME- PLEASE TRY AGAIN!". It was a perfectly neutral message, the electronic equivalent of a shrug. Not implying you were broke, or that you were bad with money, or that you were a poor person. I was all those things, but the machine was clearly not judging me. The message stayed the same, no matter how long I looked at it, and when I felt the hot gaze of someone else wanting the machine on my back, I hit the button, took my now worthless card, and skulked away. I knew, walking up to it, what was probably going to happen. I figured I'd try anyway- maybe the mortgage check hadn't cleared yet?

The casino floor was alive with action, a fever dream of lights and noises and money disappearing from bank accounts and retirement funds and Social Security checks. It was a pulse quickener, the constant lights, the bells and buzzers and whistles all signalling fun and happiness. Looking over it, I felt soulless and dead, a far cry from the hope I had when I walked in 6 long hours ago. I took out my cell phone, checking the time. 7 ½ hours, it turns out. I knew what I had left- enough money for a cup of coffee and a sandwich and the tolls to reach home. I didn't look forward to that part.

It was going to be the same old phrases. "You said you were going to stop." "What am I supposed to do for groceries?" "How can you do this to your children?" I'll give the same old unsatisfying responses. "I don't know." "I lost control." "I'm sorry." "I promise I'll stop. This time I mean it." "But you don't understand, I was on a run...," followed by her tearful retreat to our bed and my sleep in front of Sportscenter downstairs.

A cocktail waitress walked by, wearing so little she would have gotten thrown out of my high school. She stopped in front of me. Her eyes were kind, but wrinkled. She had a woman's body, hips and thighs on view underneath a skimpy little number that barely qualified as a dress.

I was on a run, too. That was the thing. I was crushing- filling straights, pairing up when I needed to, luring in bettors and crushing them with better hands. I was raking in chips, doing mental math in a giddy rush, counting the number of bills I could kill off. I should have stopped, and I even thought about stopping, but this mania took over. I couldn't hear, I couldn't see anything but the cards. I couldn't lose. Just one more hand, I kept telling myself, and then I would win that one, and then I'd play another. I couldn't stand the thought of leaving money on the table.

My father in law told me once, the first time he brought us to the casino, before the kids and the confusion, to play until you get that first bad beat. When you have a strong hand and you bet and you get creamed, walk away. "The Gods have turned on you," he said in his Slavic accent, gold medallions at the neck of his sweatshirt. "If you stay, they will destroy you." And destroy me they did, taking my winnings back, plus more, making me run to the cash machine once, twice, and then the final, fatal, third time, knowing before I got there that there wasn't anything left to bet.

"Drink, sir?," the waitress asked me. I looked into her face, too much makeup, 35 trying to look 15. She looked like I felt, broken down and out of sorts.

"No thanks," I said, but slid a one dollar bill onto her tray.

"Thank you, sir," she said sweetly, and sauntered away. I watched her walk. It was kind of like a strip club in that respect, women on display, so kind but really only interested in the dollars you held. Boy, Jennifer would hate it if that were where I was, wouldn't she? On the other hand, that was something she could at least understand.

I walked slowly, with my head down, towards the exit. Looking at the kids' faces as they emerged into the joy of a new day tomorrow morning would be the hardest part. When I was playing, it was like they didn't exist, but now, trudging into the utilitarian cement of the parking garage, I could see their faces. I remembered from my own childhood the sour stomach I got when another promise of a trip to the movies evaporated when Minnesota didn't cover the spread. Was it genetic, this craving for the rush? This need to have stakes, to have something to lose, did I inherit it like my fading hairline and fallen arches?

I shouldn't have had kids, I thought. If I never had kids, I'd only be disappointing myself and Jennifer. Or maybe just myself. The rush was so good, so real and beautiful and perfect, but the crash, the utter emptiness of another brokenhearted trip back to the house I could barely afford, the crash killed me and sent me into a spiral that wouldn't lift until I got paid again and swore to myself I would win it all back, then quit forever.

I thought about the last song that was playing on satellite radio when I got out of the car. It was Johnny Cash, but I think it was someone else's song. "You can have it all," the Man in Black said as only he could, "my empire of dirt...,". Yeah, that's what it felt like. My life, an empire of dirt. Ready to blow away in the next strong wind.

I hoped I had enough gas to get home. Then again, that was the thing; I kind of hoped I didn't.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Sir challenged me with "You can't fight genetics" and I challenged Diane with "Don't go away mad, just go away".

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Flash Fiction Friday: "Too Late For Love"

The marvelous, temporarily spit up free Chuck Wendig has issued a challenge to the Flash Fiction Friday folks, 1000 words using three of the following words: vitamins, squid, ballroom, razor, carnival. My entry is called "Too Late For Love".

I didn't want to be there. A sick colleague brought me in on a Saturday to the Independence Ballroom to tend bar for a wedding reception. The rhythms were familiar. I served drinks, mixed the cocktails, prepared Shirley Temples. I hustled, and bantered, and joked. It wasn't a hard gig, but it was mental work, tracking faces. Old people trying to look young, younger people trying to look old. Wedding party members in the full blush of youth, knowing their power.

The big partying had been done, all the ceremonial bits you expect, the wild carnival of two families forming a third. The garter had been peeled, the bouquet thrown, the first dance completed, the speeches made. Meals had been served, and guests were starting to sneak away. I kept the drinks flowing.

One of the bridesmaids, a pretty brunette with a dark, serious face like Natalie Merchant, made her way to the bar. I watched her approach. She wasn't drunk, but she was definitely headed that way. She was in the dark blue dress that they all wore. There was a little more girl than there was dress, and she carried her heels in one hand, holding a slim clutch in the other. She walked up uncertainly and put a wrinkled bill into my tip jar.

"Thanks," I said. "What can I get you?"

"An excuse to go home," she said, and chuckled sadly.

"Too much, huh?"

"Way too much," she said sadly. "I'm exhausted, and it isn't even my party." She looked down. "White wine, please?"

"Sure," I said. I poured it.

"It's her day, right? So I have no right to complain."

"You don't need a right to complain."

She sighed. "You do a lot of these?"

"Weddings? Too many," I said. "I haven't had a weekend off since Opening Day."

"That sucks," she admitted. "I've spent the last four weekends helping Stacy get ready for this nightmare. If I knew it was going to be this much work, I never would have made friends with her in sixth grade."

"A real Bridezilla?"

"Oh, God," she said. "The worst." I handed her the glass and she took a sip. "I better take my vitamin," she said, smiling. She reached into the clutch and opened a tiny vial with Hello Kitty on it. She took out a small white tablet and swallowed it, chasing it with a mouthful of wine. It didn't look like a vitamin. There was a series of angry red scratches on her upper arm, like she was a prisoner marking off days of her sentence. I had seen scratches like that, on another woman's arm, at another time. She saw my eyes noticing it.

"I cut myself getting ready," she said too quickly. I nodded, moving laterally to pour a beer for a glaring older man with a mustache.

After he left, she turned her brown eyes on me. "What do you do when you're not, uh...tending?"

Not much, I thought. "I write some. I have a novel that keeps getting rejected. What do you do?"

"Still in school," she said. "Professional student." She took another swallow of wine. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to bother you. You're working."

"No, it's fine." Some human interaction was welcome.

"It's all about Stace, and that's fine, but it's still....annoying. You're just expected to give, and give. I get sick of it."

"Even though you know better. You know it's not about you, but you're human, too. "

"Yeah." She drained her glass. "I'm not drunk, you know." she said.

"I know," I said.

"I'm not," she said more forcefully. Saying "I'm not drunk" is kind of like saying "I'm not racist." If you have to say it, it's probably not true.

I didn't say anything.

"When you're a little girl," she began, "you dream about a day like this. All the dresses, and the makeup, and the hair, and the shoes, and the food, and all the people. You dream about all these people coming together to celebrate. And it's really just this huge excuse to get drunk and behave like idiots. It's this big party that proves that you can throw a big party. It's nothing, on top of nothing, with stupid shoes that hurt your feet. It's phony, every bit of it. It doesn't make people stay married, or people be more in love. It's just a party. And I'm never going to be that special, that kind of person who makes a whole day all about them. "

She looked at me.

"I'm sorry."

"It's OK. Why do you think you're not special?"

"It's a long story," she said, choking on the words. "I'm just not. I'm not the marriage type. I can't love someone like that."

"I don't think that's true," I said.

"It is," she shot back. "I'm broken. I just don't get other people, I don't get how they work. I never understand what anyone means. I'm lost, all the time."

She looked at me again. Her eyes looked watery. "I hate all the small talk, all the fake smiling, all the rituals. All the girl stuff, all the stuff I have to act like I care about to fit in. I hate all the effort. I hate pretending. It exhausts me."

"At least it's over now, right?"

"Yeah. Now I can go home and cry. It's hard."

"Being in a wedding?"

"Being me," she said.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Updates you didn't ask for

Two pieces of mine have been published in real live books that are now on sale.

The more honorable of the two is the Lost Children Charity Anthology,which is on sale here. It contains a story that was previously published here, along with 29 other much better ones. All proceeds from the sale go to children's charities.

The more scurrilous of the two is Matt Potter's "Pure Slush Volume One", otherwise uncomfortably known as "Slut", which is available here. As you might have guessed, this title contains material of a somewhat prurient nature. My contribution is heretofore unpublished. In this case, the proceeds from the sale mostly just support the defraying of costs and the continued survival of "Pure Slush". Either that, or Matt's stable of palomino ponies need new rhinestones for their saddle blankets.

0:02.5 (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

It was loud. I had been around the block a time or two, so I had heard noisy crowds, but it never got dull. It was a force in the air, a bowel loosening, throat tightening physical thing that made your pulse race a little bit more, and your eyes narrow to slits. Coach outlined the play for us, but we all knew what it was. Everybody did- the opponents, the smarter fans, the TV guys. It was no secret. We ran it at the end of practice, Coach making us run it over and over until the shot went in with metronomic precision. It was called "Eagle", but it could be called anything- it had five quick options, A through E, after which the inbounder would just toss the ball in and hope for the best. We were out of time outs, and out of better choices.

I looked at my teammates, their faces set and grim. We didn't need to talk, we all knew what to do. We went to the preset spots, looking into the hostile, angry faces in the stands. It wasn't very often it came down to a single moment like this- do it or don't, win or lose, all in the next few moments. The scoreboard told the story, down 98-97 with 2.5 seconds to play, our ball on the side. I could see people's faces contorted, passionate, their voices combining into one diffuse roaring sound. They wanted to will their side to stop us, to move a little bit faster, to interrupt our play and secure a win. We were focused, our movements precise and calculated, intent on our assignments and our mission.

The arena was playing "Crazy Train" to encourage the fans. They didn't seem to need any help. The PA announcer cut the music off when the referee held the ball up, and the crowd's noise hit a fever pitch. It edged into frightening- if it wasn't in the context of sports, it would feel like someone was about to be killed. All five of us were leaning against an opponent, smelling each other's sweat, feeling the slick of another man's bare skin where we rubbed. It was intimate, uncomfortable, but it was something you were used to, having played this game since we were young. When playing such a physical game, where an inch might make a difference between making a play and not, you had to stand closer to another man than you would at any other time. Almost at the same moment, we moved as one, weeks and months of repetition giving us the ability to move without thinking.

I could feel the small space opening up that meant I was free, I had a step on my man. I was tired- we all were tired- but being a professional meant you dug down and summoned up the energy for one final burst of speed. I saw the gap, knew I would be getting the pass, and the ball was on the way as soon as I could form the thought. I knew, from years of practice, that I had time for one quick step before I put up the shot, 2.5 seconds being a relative eternity in basketball. The plan formed in my head instantly, and I caught it, took one long step and dribble to get space, moving onto a empty spot on the floor, then went up for the shot. The crowd was still making noise, but I was unaware of them. They were a blur of red and black and white as I rose to shoot. It was the same motion, the same process, the same steps I had made tens of thousands of times over the years, in practice and games. The calculations went on blindingly fast, angles and tangents and spin and arc, and the shot was off.

I heard the siren ending the game as I came back down from my jump. I knew the shot had been released in time- the only question now was whether or not it would go in. It sounds arrogant to say that I knew it would go in. I felt like it would, it felt good leaving my hand. But I didn't know that it would go in. I had launched thousands and thousands of shots, in gyms by myself, at practice, and in games, and I knew how it felt when the shot was good. But I also knew you could feel perfect, and you're just wrong- you're not as close as you thought, or you made some tiny adjustment at the last second that threw you off, or the basketball gods just said no. Sometimes it felt just right, and you missed, and there was nothing you could do but just chalk it up to fate. I knew we had done our best. The play had worked just like it was supposed to. I ran my defender through a pair of screens, giving me just enough space to catch, step, set myself and take a good shot. If it didn't go in, it wasn't meant to be. It wouldn't be because of any lack of effort on our part, that was for sure.

As the horn sound faded away, I could hear the crowd again. They never stopped making noise, but it was like hitting the mute button on a TV. Once we broke the huddle, my focus was so intense that, as much noise as they made, I couldn't hear them. I only knew space, and angle, and path, speed, force, and space. The roar was back for a split second, like turning on a faucet, followed by a gasp, and then silence. A sweet, perfect silence accompanied by the sound of chairs snapping back into place as people headed for the exit, back slaps from my teammates and I could hear the TV announcers excitedly describing the shot at courtside. I didn't need to check the scoreboard- their silence told me as loud as words that the shot went in and victory was ours.

This week's Indie Ink Challenge came from Liz Culver, who gave me this prompt: "a quiet moment". I challenged Cedar with the prompt "an offer I couldn't refuse".

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Closed

Chuck Wendig, who would probably convince the Supercommittee to spend the deficit on coke and hookers, has posted a flash fiction challenge asking for 100 word stories using one of the following five words: Frog, Scissors, Powder, Tower, and Seagull. Here's my entry, called, "Closed".

What was it that Jake Barnes said? "Gradually, and then suddenly"? That was how it was. First sales dropped, then suppliers stopped shipping because I couldn't pay, and then sales dropped because you were out of everything. I had cooked myself the last batch of french fries we had, but even after they cooled, I couldn't stomach them. I pitched them one by one onto the ground in front of me, watching the seagulls dive and caw, scooping them up in the October air. They say nature is so delicate, but some species are meant to survive anything.

Why You Do That? (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

The house was quiet. No screaming, no yelling, no crying. No happy noises from the kitchen of dishes being washed, no chugging sound of a washing machine running. Nothing. I listened to the emptiness, hoping to hear tires on the driveway, the door opening and the insistent babble of a child. I heard the furnace come on. Somewhere outside, a dog barked. The sun was making irregular patterns on the floor. I could hear my pulse in my ears.

I was standing inside the front door. I had begged her right after it happened, pleaded and implored her to give me another chance, apologized and groveled, my voice drowned out by wailing, my daughter's high screech alongside my wife's bitter, harsh expletives. But she left anyway, grabbing Jen and taking the car. She's probably headed to her father's house, where she'll cry and complain while he half listens and threatens me. She'll be back. "She always comes back," I told myself.

There was a framed picture on the wall inside the door. It had a gold frame, and it showed the three of us, posed and uncomfortable, in front of one of those phony portrait backdrops. I had a fake, grim smile, my wife looking brilliant and blonde, and Jennifer captured in a rare quiet moment, pigtails at rest and a genuine, warm grin. I remembered that day- the humidity, the sweat and the waiting, the swallowed comments and buried feelings. My scalp prickled with the memory.

It had started in the morning. I assumed Jen was still asleep in her room, when my wife sat down beside me. I wasn't really listening to her, half listening to the torrent of sports news from the TV. I had turned it on mindlessly, just wanting to stare at something for a minute before the day began.

"Honey?," Ashley said warily.

I looked at her blonde hair, flopping carelessly around her eyes. She looked tired. We hadn't been sleeping well, taking turns soothing Jen as she battled what seemed like her fifth cold this month.

"Mmm?," I said. I hoped it wasn't anything major. I wanted more than anything else to just nap in front of the TV before heading out to work. Again. On the screen, a truck was struggling to make it to the top of a muddy hillside.

"I'm pregnant." It sounded unreal, like I hadn't heard her right. But what rhymes with "pregnant"?

"You are?"

"Yeah." She was looking down at the unvacuumed carpet, ground in Fritos and spilled juice giving it odd swatches of color. I snatched the remote and turned the TV off.

"But you were..," I began.

"I know," she cut in, abrasive and cutting. "I can't explain it. But I am. I tested this morning to be sure. It's definite."

"How could... ", I started to ask. I felt nauseous, panicky. We were scrambling just to cover the bills now. How could we possibly afford another kid?

"I don't know, OK? I don't know!", she said, her voice rising. "Jesus, I knew you were going to be like this," she spit out, struggling to her feet.

I put my hand on her arm, trying to stop her, leaning in. "Wait, let's...,"

"Don't TOUCH me!," she said. She jerked her arm up, the back of her hand smacking my cheek as she tried to fend me off. I felt the stone from her ring nick my skin. I reacted without thinking, moving before I was aware of it. Or that's what I tell myself. I felt like all my gauges were pinned, like on a car that was overheating. I saw red, and I felt a bottomless rage.

I punched her, plain and simple, a short, quick, crisp right hand that landed hard on her cheek, connecting perfectly. I had fought people before, and I knew the feeling. It was smooth, almost elegant, like the subtle click when you hit a golf ball squarely. She went down, the momentum turning her onto her face. She wound up on all fours, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs. I didn't do anything for a second, before the screaming started. For a second, I couldn't figure out what had happened, why she was down there and why I was standing over her like that famous picture of Ali.

She got up screaming, pushing past me and down the hall. I followed meekly, trying to explain, to apologize, to make it right, but every word was cut off with a snarled curse. Jennifer was standing there as she walked by, a pout on her tiny face. I didn't know how much she saw, and I didn't want to know.

"Why you do that, Daddy?," she asked, and then followed her mother down the hall, beginning her own flood of tears. I didn't know how to answer that.

She threw clothes, toys and a few other supplies into bags, finally scooping up Jen and, still wailing, walking out, slamming the front door behind her, leaving me with the silent house. I had to be at work in a couple of hours, leaving me just enough time to shower and get to the bus stop. The sun was making bars of reflected light on the wall, and one of the bars covered my wife's face on the picture in front of me.

I took the picture off of its hook on the wall. I thought about smashing it, hurling it down at my feet, feeling the atavistic power and childish satisfaction of breaking something. I immediately rejected that, picturing one of Jen's tiny, chubby little feet finding a sliver of glass I had missed, and the howling of her pain and my guilt. I thought about moving it, putting it into a drawer or throwing it away, but I knew Ashley too well. Moving the picture would have symbolic value to her, some deep statement about the nature of our relationship and how much I cared about my family.

Things always had meanings that I didn't understand, like when you're reading a book in high school and the teacher tells you that the sign by the side of the road with the glasses on it symbolizes God's judgement of man, and you think, OK, maybe, or maybe it's just a sign by the road? Doing anything to the picture would only cause a fight somewhere down the line, I decided. "Assuming she comes back," my brain said. I hung it carefully back where it was.

For the IndieInk Writing
this week, Sarah Cass challenged me with "I was always so angry. Now they're gone and I have no way to make things right," and I challenged Dianewith "I'm dying to see you."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100 Word Challenge: Close To The Borderline

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge would be the very first to tell you that there 'sno business like online literary flash fiction challenge business.


The word is "Snow" and this story is called "Close to the Borderline".

When I stopped paying the cable bill, we went down to two channels, the only two that were tolerable to watch through the snow and interference you got when using the antenna.

"You know what, Daddy? We learned in class that fuzzy stuff on the TV screen is actually particles from outer space!"

My daughter bounced on my secondhand couch. I tried to adjust the set. The macaroni from the food pantry was boiling. At least the power was still on.

"What are you going to have for dinner, Daddy?," she asked me.

What you don't finish, I thought.

"Photograph": Indie Ink Writing Challenge

I had hired him out of a mix of two things. I had hoped I was wrong, but I secretly knew I was right. I had been getting cash back when I shopped for groceries, $20 here, $40 there, until I had assembled the amount he wanted. He looked at the picture of John on our mantelpiece, taken the money, and promised results within a week. I was stunned when he called me 3 days later and asked when it would be convenient to come over. I left Ethan at my mother's for the morning, and then had him at our dining room table shortly after 10AM on a Thursday.

He was carrying a plain manila envelope, a small black laptop case, and a sad, hangdog expression. His hair was thinning, but still handsomely salt and pepper, and his face looked rugged, like he had just had his picture taken for an ad for a rugged SUV or a line of work clothes. He refused coffee, but took a powdered donut that I had placed on a dinner plate on the table. When he bit the donut, a spot of white sugar appeared on his black dress shirt. That's why I tried not to eat those- they made everything messy.

I had showered and changed, but I had to leave my hair wet, a brown sodden mess down my back, leaving a faint wet patch on the back of my sweater. I had no makeup, but my bare toes were painted, and I sat next to him, legs crossed at the knee, smiling for reasons that were unclear to me. Was I flirting? Or was it just so unusual to have a strange man in my house I defaulted into teenage mode, bashful and giggly?

I looked into his smoky blue eyes. He looked away, at the clock above the kitchen sink that had birds instead of numbers, at the gleaming German refrigerator, at the dishes I had hurriedly done, still dripping water as they air dried. He looked out through the glass door that led into the back yard, the bottom third smudged with fingerprints I hadn't cleaned. He had only murmured "no thanks," when I offered him the coffee, and "sure," when I proffered the donuts. Otherwise he hadn't spoken.

I didn't know what to say, but he appeared content to just eat the donut and stare into my back yard. Someone had to say something. I looked down at my bare foot, swinging in the air, making tiny little circles. I really should have put shoes on. Would that have seemed like I was trying to hard to impress him? I remembered reading once that a woman showing a bare foot was a form of nonverbal flirtation, so maybe that wasn't right. I wanted to seem casual, but also proper. I could see the bones and tendons of my foot as I flexed it. I always used to take pride in how thin my feet were, but now they look skeletal, insubstantial, like they can't support my weight.

He was drumming his fingers on the rough surface of the envelope. I sipped my coffee. It was lukewarm and bitter, despite the sugar I had added.

"Do you want me to just tell you," he said evenly in his low voice, "or should I show you? What I found out?"

"You can tell me," I said. "Then show me."

"He is," he said.

In my head, I had decided some time ago that he was, so hearing this stranger say the words wasn't totally surprising. But it was still an out of body experience, where you are observing your own reactions. I thought about what a character in a book or a TV show would do- hurl my coffee cup against the wall or onto the floor, cry, collapse onto the floor. But I didn't do any of those things. I stared at him like he had just told me my total at the supermarket or offered to sell me a vacuum cleaner. He was looking down at the folder. He looked sad. I wondered how many times he had to say those words.

"There's proof in here," he said slowly. "You can have it. I keep a copy in case you need them again. There's video, too. I can email that, or you can watch it on my laptop."

He took a bite of donut, chewing and swallowing it, not looking at me. He cleared his throat. I felt like I was watching a scene in a movie.

"You don't have to look at it. I would advise you not to. At least not right now. Just hire an attorney and give them to him or her. I can give you some names."

"Do you know who it is?," I said. It didn't matter. But it felt like something I should know. "The woman?," I said, uselessly.

"I don't know her name," he said. "He picked her up at Memorial Hospital, when she finished work. She was wearing scrubs, so I assume she worked there."

I looked at his hands. One still had a few white flecks of donut sugar on them. They were a man's hands, with little cuts and scars and calluses. Someone who worked for a living. Maybe he did woodworking in his spare time or something. Or maybe the scars were from punching out criminals and such, like in the movies. They looked dry, like he needed someone to massage them and rub them with moisturizer.

"I need to see," I said. I wasn't sure why I said that. I knew. I hired him because I knew, and he just told me that he had confirmed it. I watched him as he unfastened the brass catch and slid a picture out of the envelope. There were others behind it. It was printed on the same kind of fancy photo paper I had just used to print a picture of Ethan my sister in law posted on Facebook.

The picture was of a hotel room, shot from a very high angle. A large bed in the middle of the room, with a bureau, a TV, a bedside table, curtains drawn, nondecript and ordinary. The colors were off, everything in shades of orange, but there wasn't any question about what the picture showed. I thought for a minute about how he got such a picture, where they were, why he did this sort of thing for a living, then realized I probably didn't want to know. He couldn't or wouldn't tell me the answers even if I asked.

There was a man in the picture, no question it was John. He was looking away from the camera lens, but I could recognize the pattern of hair on his bald spot, the way the cords in his neck stood out when he was exerting himself, even the way the muscles looked in his legs. He was having sex with a woman I didn't recognize. She was a small, lithe little blonde. Her face was angled towards the camera, and I could see the desire etched on her face as it contorted. She was small breasted, with a flat belly and well toned, strong looking legs that were up in the air. Her toes were pointed straight, like she was a gymnast or a ballet dancer. She was attractive, I had to admit that, with a small nose and a pretty mouth.

"Are you going to confront him? I can arrange to be around if you think you'll be in some danger."

Danger? From John? I almost laughed at the thought. He couldn't even beat me at arm wrestling. I kept looking at the picture. It had all the wierd perspective problems of a camera that's not supposed to be there- his head looks enormous in the picture, his feet tiny as they gripped the carpet for purchase. I wondered what she did differently. Was she louder? Quieter? More active? More passive? Or was it just the fact that she wasn't me?

"There isn't any other way to say this, but I'm going to send you a bill for the rest of my fee. I left you a list of attorneys in the envelope, along with my business card. If I may, what people usually do is give my bill to the lawyer, and they will get it out of your husband. They roll it into the fee, something like that." His voice was calm, placid, like he had said this same thing dozens of times this week. He sounded like he was explaining car insurance or the features of a washer and dryer.

"Do you want me to be here when he gets home?"

"No, no," I said. "That won't be necessary. You'll mail me a bill, then?"

"Yes. You have my card if you need anything. If you feel threatened, in any danger at all, call the cops, then call me."

"I don't know what to say," I said. My foot was still bobbing stupidly. "Thank you seems inappropriate."

"It does," he said. "But you're welcome anyway." He stood up. "You'll call me if you need me?"

"Yes," I said. He stood up. He was tall, taller than John. He looked tired. I felt rooted to my chair.

"I'll be going, then. For what it's worth, he's a fool for running around on you," he said. He paused, then added "I'll see myself out."

I sat there, watching him go out of my kitchen, down the stairs, and out the front door, shutting it firmly behind him. I heard his car start, and I heard the tires crunch as he drove away. I still sat there, my leg bobbing up and down with no one to look at it. I wondered if I had thrown myself at him, if he would have stayed. Would have felt better, getting John back with a little tit for tat? That probably happened to him all the time. And he probably turned them down, certainly rejecting the ones with the baby weight and regret that I carry.

I looked down at the table, the three donuts he didn't eat, along with the folder and the pictures I hadn't looked at yet along with the one poisonous pornographic one that I had. I looked at her face, contorted with pleasure and need, and wondered what she was thinking. Did John tell her he was married? Did she care? Or was the need so overwhelming, so immediate and huge that she couldn't help herself? The photo wasn't clear enough for me to tell if he was using a condom or not. Was he cheating with others? Was she? The thought of him bringing disease into our bed nauseated me.

I thought for a moment about leaving the picture there without comment, waiting for him to glance at it, waiting for a reaction. I didn't want to have a screaming match with Ethan in the house, but I wanted to hurt him, I wanted to make him feel the yawning, dizzying, helpless rage of knowing you had failed someone utterly, and there was no way on Earth you could ever make it right again. Then I thought about tearing it up, burning it, destroying it, as if the picture had done the damage and not my philandering husband. If I got rid of it, it would be like it didn't exist.

I sat there, staring at the picture that had rearranged everything I knew as true. I looked at the man who stood there in front of God and his mother and me and a minister and 191 others and said words like "always" and "forever", and clearly didn't mean them, and I looked at the woman who found potbellied, anxious John so fascinating that she simply had to have him. I looked at the cheap hotel room where they did it, and I looked at the positive proof that the first part of my life was over, and a new and different part had begun. It seemed cheap and out of proportion that something so small could do so much damage.

I wanted to cry, or scream, or throw something hard against the wall to feel the satisfying, sharp sound as it shattered. I wanted to destroy things, throw his golf clubs into the street or march into his office, tear stained and hysterical, and demand that he explain why, and how, and when, and who. I looked at the evidence of his crime, tucked it back into the manila folder it had come from, and sealed it shut. I got up, found a pair of ballet flats, pulled my hair into a pony tail, grabbed my keys, tucked the folder into my purse, and left, closing the door, locking it behind me with a satisfying, final thunk.

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kurt challenged me with William S. Burrough's "...and there were plenty of cameras to freeze dry this edifying spectacle for posterity and export. It's the little touches that make a future solid enough to be destroyed," and I challenged Britania with Rush's "Nowhere is the dreamer/or the misfit so alone."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

100 Word Challenge: Just Like Her

Velvet Verbosity's 100 Word Challenge is ready to step in and negotiate an end to the NBA lockout. This week's word is "writing", and my story is called "Just Like Her".

Madison has the coolest handwriting in the whole class, Jennifer thought. Madison was more popular, more athletic, taller, prettier, smarter, nicer, better in every way. She wanted her letters to look just like hers, all bubbly and even and friendly looking. She practiced at night, writing her own name over and over, wanting it to be perfect. They had a spelling test and Jennifer wanted her name to look just right on the top. She wrote it again and again, erasing and rewriting, until Miss Blake's voice snapped through her trance.

"OK, class. Time! Hand your papers forward, please."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Treasure Hunt (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

Samantha hated her name. The day I met her, playing with a soccer ball by myself in my yard while my Mom unpacked the stuff from the moving truck, she insisted that I call her Sammy, so that's what I did. She just walked right up and kicked the ball back to me, saying, as bright and bold as the sun, "Hi! I'm Sammy!". She was a little shorter than me, with thick dark hair that always needed brushing and almond shaped eyes. I had never heard of a girl named Sammy, but I went along with it. Sammy had a way of making you want to do what she said.

She was in my class when school started, and I soon understood that she was the center of almost everything. Teachers called on her first, she got picked for kickball before any other girl, the principal knew her name, the art teachers oohed and aahed over her work more than anyone else's. It was thrilling for me, because I gained instant credit when she introduced me as "Brit, who lives right across the STREET from me." Kids were impressed that I lived close to someone so magical.

Her mom used "Samantha" when she was mad at her. When I picked up the phone and her mom asked if "Samantha" was there, I knew she was probably in trouble again. My mom didn't care if Sammy came over while she was at work, but Sammy never asked her mom, so she wound up playing "where's Sammy" a lot. The answer was usually my house, but she called anyway.

One day, Sammy and I were watching cartoons on Veteran's Day. We had no school, but our moms were at work, so Sammy came over and we were sitting in front of the TV eating grapes from a bowl my mom had left in the fridge. Right in the middle of Jenny the Teenage Robot, Sammy sat up straight and said, "Let's go exploring!"

"Exploring? Where?," I said.

"In the woods." Behind our house, they were building more houses, knocking down trees and clearing grass. You could hear the engines and saws of the workmen if you turned the TV down low. We usually kept it loud.

"Are you crazy? We can't," I said. The only rule my mom had was a very serious one- don't ever leave the house, unless it's burning down. Don't answer the phone, don't answer the door. I could have Sammy over, but we had to stay in my house the whole time. She said it a million times, reminding me again and again until I could say the words at the same time she did. "No matter what, you stay in the house."

"I'll never tell," Sammy said. "Come on! I want to go look for treasure."

I knew treasure wasn't real. There were no angels, or pirates, or aliens. They weren't real like homework and lip gloss and soccer was real.

"No," I said firmly. "My mom says I can't."

"Come ON," Sammy said. "It will be fun. We'll just go into the woods a little bit, then come back. I KNOW there's treasure there." She was getting up, pulling her sneakers on and tying them.

I knew she was crazy. But I knew she would probably go anyway, even if I didn't. I felt like I was responsible for Sammy, like I had to keep her from doing dumb things. I sat up. My boots were at the bottom of the chair. All I had to do was slide my feet in and I could be right behind her.

"Sammy, we can't."

"Come ON, Brit. I promise we'll be right back. I PROMISE. Just come for 5 minutes."

I slid my boots on and stood up.

"Cool," she said. "Let's go!"

We grabbed our jackets and went out the back door of my house. I turned around and made sure it was unlocked so we could get back in. There are fences on the left and right, but our yard just ends where the woods start. My mom always says that she's going to put up a fence in the back, but she hasn't yet. We walked to the edge where the trees began.

Sammy found a spot where it looked like there was a path.

"This is going to be so fun!," Sammy said.

She went between two trees and we started to walk. The air was cold and smelled a little bit like smoke. The leaves, brown and yellow, crunched loudly under our feet. The path seemed to stop, and Sammy moved to the left, looking for another clear path. We were walking along the outside of the cleared out place where the new houses were being built. If we looked through the trees, we could see the yellow and red and orange trucks and equipment, digging and scraping at the ground like huge mechanical beasts. I kept walking behind Sammy.

She stopped so suddenly I almost stepped on her.

"BRIT!," she said in a harsh whisper. "Look!"

There was a box at her feet. It was made of hard blue plastic, with a snap on top, and it looked like the boxes I used to put stuffed animals in when I was little. My mouth went dry with excitement. I could taste the exhaust from the construction equipment. My heart was bounding.

"Open it," she said.

I fumbled around for a second, unable to speak. I wanted to run, could picture myself flying back through the woods, across the grass and back inside my front door. When I looked back, I could see my house's outline, so I knew exactly where to run.

Finally I found my voice. "YOU open it, Sammy."

She looked back at me. Her eyes were wide. "Let's do it together."

What could be in there? It could be nothing, or it could be something really bad, or something gross, or something dead. My legs felt trembly, like before you had to stand up in the spelling bee. I was clenching my fist and unclenching it, as hard as I could. It was cold. When you looked through the woods at the workmen, you could see tiny little dots of color where the men were working.

Is it a gun? A bomb? A dead animal? I had the overwhelming feeling something awful was about to happen. I wanted to stay there with Sammy, but I felt like I was going to throw up, and then I was running. It was like my legs were moving by themselves, and I was suddenly dashing away from Sammy, jumping over rocks, ducking under branches, digging against the loose sticks and leaves on the ground. I reached my yard, and then I was across it in a flash, up to the back door, yanking it open and slamming it behind me.

My heart was pounding now, big slamming beats inside my ribs, and I could feel sweat on my back. I ripped my jacket off, and walked over to the grapes and picked up the remote, jabbing at it to turn the TV back on. I was breathing hard, feeling anxious, like I had watched something terrible. I didn't want to turn around, but I finally did, looking back at the woods, half expecting to see a monster chasing Sammy back into my yard, or a big explosion of flame and smoke coming out of the woods. I didn't see anything, and I felt my stomach starting to settle down.

I didn't know what I would do, and I started to try to imagine trying to explain that Sammy wasn't here, when she walked out of the woods, swinging her arms, looking at me through the window in the back door. I opened the door with sweaty hands.

She took the steps up to the door and moved past me into the house.

"Why'd you leave?"

"I'm sorry, Sammy. I just...I got scared and I ran."

"It's OK. I was a little scared, too."

I almost didn't want to know, but the words tumbled out before I could stop them.

"Did you open it? What was in it?"

Sammy had stepped on the back of her shoe, slipping her foot out without untying it. She slipped off the other shoe, then sat down Indian style on the far side of the bowl of grapes. She was staring at the TV, which was showing a commercial for cereal. She seemed as cool as could be, the very opposite of everything I was. If I could have traded places with her in that moment, I would have. Samantha Norris, I wish I could be you, I thought.

"Nothing," Sammy said.

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Kirsten Doyle challenged me with "You are walking in the forest and you trip over a wooden box. You open the box and find..." and I challenged Tara Roberts with "All I ever needed was the One".

Monday, October 31, 2011

Promotion (But not for myself, for once)

Saints on Earth Fiona Johnson and Thomas Pluck have collected 30 stories that were submitted to a flash fiction challenge for an EBook that is being sold to raise money for children's charities. It's called "The Lost Children Anthology", I am very proud that one of my stories was included, and I would be pleased if you bought a copy here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

100 Word Challenge: Costume Shopping

Velvet Verbosity won't let anything slow her, or the 100 Word Challenge, down. This week's word is "Halloween", and this story is called "Costume Shopping".

"No," I said. Her deep brown eyes flashed. She stomped off, sure of my cluelessness.

She came back holding one. Nurse. Too short.

"No," I said. She threw a full force pout, turning away again.

Another choice. Vampire. Too low.

"No," I said. "But Daaaaaayaaaaad," she said, making it three syllables.

"No," I said again. She made an angry sound, then disappeared into the maelstrom. Everything was cut high, or dipped down too low. She was too young to understand the balance that had to be struck. Or was she?

Why did I agree to buy the costume this year?

Bleak House ( Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Mary Terrani challenged me with "Sometimes you have to let go of the one you love to find out if there is really something there" and I challenged Diane with "As children, your world is yours. That day [his father's death] taught me that it's really not your world. Somebody else is in control-fate, God, whatever it is. It is not your show. And the show can be brutal. -Tim Allen".

"Ray?," she said. She always spoke softly, as if nothing she said was worth listening to.

Emmeline was at the other end of my couch, reading "Bleak House" again. Her precise dancer's feet were pulled up against her, her toes peeking out under the hem of her skirt. The polish was chipped and uneven. She had marked her place in the worn paperback and was looking at me over the top of it. Her eyes were engaging. I never wanted to stop looking at them.

I felt a sudden unease. I was grading papers, half listening to the broadcast of a Mariners game that I had turned down in deference to her reading. She had joined me for dinner, but had only picked at her food, muttering noncommittal replies to my questions. Something was up.


"I need to ask you something."

Famous last words, I thought.


"Something's been bothering me." You can say that again, I thought.


"No, not Kate. Well, not really Kate. Kate's part of it, but Kate's part of everything. I still haven't made my peace with it, but I'm tired of fighting it." That reminded me of the old saying, "When they say it's not about the money, it's about the money."

"OK. What is it, Em?"

"You know I love you."

"Yes. And I love you, too."

"Yes, you do. After Wendy, you didn't have anybody before me, did you?"

"No, I didn't. You know this. What are you trying to say, Em?"

She looked down, focusing on her knees under the thin fabric of the skirt. She set the paperback down and wrapped her hands around her ankles.

"I'm scared, Ray. I'm scared that you're in love with being in love, instead of being in love with me. I love Kate, you know that. But I'm scared you love her more than you love anyone, because she's your last tie to Wendy. And damn it, I'm scared that I will always be second fiddle to the memories of someone who died."

I could hear the tears on the edge of her voice.

"Ray, you're it for me. I knew it from the moment you started talking to me about pens and paper, that very first day. I have not regretted a moment of time I have spent with you. I don't have a shadow of a doubt that I want to spend the rest of my life with you in one form or another."

"Neither do-," I began.

"Shut up," she said quickly. "Just shut up. You do. You do have doubts, and you know it. You can't commit to me. You can't. Not because you don't care about me, and not because you're a bad person. You can't commit because you already committed, in your heart, and she's gone, and I can't compete with a ghost."

She stood up, tears making tracks down the red blooms on her cheeks. She slid her bare feet into black flats that were waiting obediently on the floor.

"You've got to think about this, Ray. You have to think about whether you're ready to give yourself, all of yourself, to me. You have to think about what I mean to you. You have to decide what it is you want."

She picked up her book and started towards the door. I stood up.

"I won't be second place, Raymond. I won't. I'm ready to give myself to you. But I have to get something in return: all of you. I want you to take a break from me. I want you to really think about things. If we're ready, if this is real, we'll be stronger afterwards. If you think about it and you're not ready, I will accept that. But you need to make up your mind, because if I'm going to have a future with you, I need to know that I'm the only one."

She was at my door. I couldn't talk, but it didn't matter because I didn't know what to say.

"When I'm ready to talk about this again, I'll call you."

She opened the door and left. The breeze from the hallway ruffled her skirt softly, and then the door shut. I was alone. I turned back to the spot where she was sitting, the cushions still faintly indented with her shape. I knew if I leaned down close, I could probably smell her sweat on the fabric. I didn't.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Wait (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Courtney challenged me with "He has brought me this far, he won't leave me hanging" and I challenged Kevin Wilkes with "I know they say let it be, but it just don't work out that way."

He said he would be here.

He wasn't the only one. My father is in Schenectady, so I don't blame him for not being here. My mother said she'd be here, and I think she will be. She told me she would come right over. I'm sure there's traffic or something.

The room was high enough to be over the highway. The curtains had separated a bit, giving me a thin view of the bright highway. Cars were no longer flashing by, instead crawling slowly now as rush hour asserted itself.

Above my head, a pretty blonde in a smart looking suit was gesturing silently at maps with flashing red marks where the traffic was slow. I could turn up the sound, but I'd have to move to do that, so I quickly discarded that notion.

I looked around the room, with all the strange looking tubes and wires. Numbers flashed, raising slightly, then dipping again. I thought about asking what they meant. They would tell me, but I realized it would just be something else to worry about. I'd probably be better off not knowing.

He had been there from the start. (The mild pun made me smile slightly- the statement was literally true. He was there at the moment it happened, but neither of us knew that then.) I told him, and he was nothing but gracious about it. I had heard and read horror stories about denials and even violence, but he was calm. Slightly dazed, he sat and talked with me as long as I wanted, letting me cry. We talked, and talked, and talked- I told him what I wanted, and he agreed without hesitation. I would never stop appreciating that, how easily he allowed my wishes to reign supreme.

We knew we weren't in love. Certainly fond of one another, (fond enough to have done what was necessary, certainly) we quickly agreed that it would be best to remain friendly without forcing a romantic entanglement neither of us wanted. He called, and he texted, and he bought me lunch now and then. He listened when I talked, and drove me around sometimes when it was too uncomfortable and awkward to drive myself. He was supportive in every way I could have asked for. He had been a perfect, understanding, lovely friend all the way through it, and I knew he wasn't going to leave me now. He said he would be here when it was time, and I'm sure he will.

I looked around the room again. There were a few chairs, covered in a thick, plastic looking cushions. I imagined they probably got splashed with all sorts of fluids, so they probably wanted them easy to clean. Nothing absorbent. But the chairs made me a little sad, emphasizing, in my mind, that people were supposed to be here with me.

I wasn't really alone. Every once in a while, someone would hurry in dressed in blue or orange or bright, cheerful pink. They'd ask me how I was, if I needed a drink or a pillow. Some of them would write something down, or make an entry on a laptop they were carrying. I didn't ask for much, partially because there wasn't too much they could do, and partially because I knew they had other people just like me they were watching over.

It was hard, doing this like this. I knew people cared for me, and I knew they would be here soon enough to hold my hand and do what they could to help me through this. But they weren't here now, and a tiny, childish part of me demanded they get here now, and I was frustrated and almost teary because they weren't.

And it hurt.

I knew it was going to hurt. All the books said that, other women told you with knowing smiles that, and simple common sense told you that. And it did- a constant, sharp ache with intervals of unbelievable, searing agony that made me clench my teeth and breathe hard and shallow breaths. This pain was different in its intensity and scope from any pain I had ever known. It blazed, and roared, and felt like it would never end, until it finally did, fading into merely agonizing.

When you had regular pain from exertion or other miseries, it was more contained. You knew what hurt, you knew what you could do, if anything, to relieve it, and you knew, intellectually, that there was an endpoint. This pain was different. It was deeper, and wider, and seemed to involve every nerve cell, every fiber of your being. You would do anything to stop it, make any promise. But it stopped when it was good and ready.

I felt it starting. There were tremors, little movements, twinges and spasms on top of the constant aching pain that was constantly underneath. After that warning, I didn't have a chance to move, or cry out, or do anything before it started. It was a grabbing, squeezing band of pain that started up high with a depth and intensity that made me suck in a breath. It squeezed, and the hurt blossomed and spread and made me arch my back slightly, peering up at the harsh florescent lighting above the bed. I prayed, something I hadn't done since I was 7. Of course, it didn't stop.

It was an ocean of pain, and I felt like I was struggling for air, drowning in the sensation. There wasn't any end to it. I knew it had to eventually stop, but while you're in it, it feels like hurting is all you will ever know. Nothing is comfortable, no position relieves it. It gets to a point where I can barely remember what good is. It seems like I was born in pain, and I honestly wished, for a moment, I would die if that meant it would stop.

I registered someone coming in the room, and saw a lime green top under a kind, pleasant smile. "Contraction, honey?"

I couldn't speak.

"I know it's bad, sweetheart."

Her cool hand found mine, which was slick with sweat. I writhed, hearing nonsense sounds coming out of my own mouth.

"Just breathe. It will be over soon enough."

It felt like it was going to last forever, until suddenly it wasn't. The bands were releasing, the waves of agony receding slowly. I opened my eyes wide, the woman in green, her hair pulled back away from her face, holding my hand.

"The first time is hard. It gets easier."

Finally able to speak, I muttered, " You did this more than once? "

She chuckled. "Yes, dear. Four times."

My mother came around the corner, already talking a mile a minute. "Traffic was a nightmare, but I'm here now, and I...oh!" She saw the woman in green, my hand still in hers. "I'm Evalyn's mother," she said, straightening up.

"Well, we just had a bad one, but things are progressing. I'll go get Dr. Paultz," she said, moving towards the door.

"Jimmy said he'll be along," my mother told me.

I knew that. I knew that this could be endured, that my mother had done it, that woman in green had, my friend Kerry had. Lots of people had, billions of them. It didn't make it hurt less, but it reminded me, again, that I would survive it.

"I know," I said.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Terrible Minds Challenge: Nobody Understands Anybody

If life is a highway, Chuck Wendig runs a disreputable dive bar right off of the exit ramp. This week's flash fiction challenge involves three of the following five words (cockroach, bottle, box, tax, fountain) plus a vampire in some way, shape, or form. My story is called "Nobody Understands Anybody".

It was a pleasantly warm fall day, the sort of day that makes you think nature is trying to pull a fast one. I came out of the lobby, emerging from the fake reflected warmth into the honest sunshine, wanting to eat my yogurt and fruit sitting on the gorgeous stone fountain that made the front of our building, an ordinary insurance company in Nowhere, New Jersey, look a little bit like a location in a James Bond movie.

It was a popular destination for those of us who couldn't afford to dash to Chipotle every day- spend 20 minutes or so eating, then walk or just sit, absorbing some rays and looking at people before returning to the fluorescent world of spreadsheets and budgets and phone calls. I saw lanky Tom, who worked in my department, talking on his phone in a hissed whisper. I sat down near him, but not too near, opening my yogurt and decidedly not listening.

"Look, I have to go," he said. "Yes. I know. I'm sorry. Yes. OK. We can talk about it when I get home. Yes. OK. Fine."

He looked puzzled for a moment, then lowered the phone from his ear, shaking his head slowly. His dark hair was mussed, like he had been running his hands through it.

"Hey, Tom," I said.

"Hey, Jules," he said. "I'm sorry you had to hear that."

"We all have those moments," I said, trying to sound cheery. "I guess I don't have to ask how you are."

He barked out a laugh. "No, no you don't."

I looked at him, in stained Dockers and a dress shirt that was starting to come untucked. I wanted to take care of him, like you would a lost dog.

"Is it Caroline?"

He took a long sip from a bottle of Orangina.

"It's Caroline, it's the baby, it's this place, it's everything. I really don't know how to deal with it." He looked pained. He was staring down at the ground. I watched the sunlight hit the little fake gem on top of my shoe.

"I'm sorry, Tom. I wish there was something I could do to help."

He looked up at me, his face full of hope.

"Me too, Jules."

He finished his drink and got up to put it in the trash. His walk was slow and unsteady. He seemed unable to look anyone in the eye.

I waited for him to sit back down. "Being a Dad really sucks the life out of you, huh?"

He laughed again, harshly, indicating the opposite of laughter. "Yeah."

He paused, then continued.

"It's so taxing- there are a hundred problems that you don't know the answers to, and she doesn't know either, and the kid, the kid is just constantly unhappy, and you don't know why. I love them, I love them to death, but it's like they are these vampires, just draining you of your essence. You feel like a total failure, all the time, and I'm not sleeping well, and then she calls me today and starts yelling about how I bought the wrong wipes, and now she's out of them, and she's too tired to go to the store, and..."

He stopped again. It sounded like he was swallowing back a sob.

"I just had this thought, this image, of just taking the whole box of wipes and just throwing them at her. And you know I'm not like that. I'm not that kind of person. It really feels like I'm losing it, Jules."

I didn't know what to say. I had met his wife at the Christmas party, a short, dark woman who looked me over with suspicion. It was off putting, because I hadn't done anything yet.

"You're not like that, Tom. It's just a thought. It's like that comedian says, if you haven't contemplated murder, you haven't really been in love. I'm sure you're just going through the same thing every new parent does. You'll be OK."

"I hope you're right," he said, his voice tight. I could picture holding him, letting his tears fall onto the shoulders of my jacket. I felt this compelling need to comfort him, to tell him that I would listen, that I wouldn't yell. I had never thought about him romantically, but suddenly, there on the edge of the fountain in the sun, I pictured him telling me about it over a drink, and then following me home to my tiny, sad apartment. I wasn't going to do it. I wasn't that sort of person. But I could see it.

He cleared his throat and stood up. "I'm going to take a walk," he said. "I need to clear my head."

"OK, Tom. I'll see you back inside."

"OK, Jules."

I watched him walk away. He seemed broken. It was so sad that his wife didn't understand him. Or maybe it was Tom who didn't understand her? I scraped the last bit of yogurt from the bottom of the container. Maybe nobody understands anybody.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"I Like Ponies" (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Diane challenged me with "I'm the lie living for you so you can hide" and I challenged Kurt with "If you love someone, set them free".

The house was too warm- the combination of the oven and the bodily warmth making the house a steamy mess. The kids, fueled by appetizers and sugared drinks, still buzzed around with boundless energy, occasionally checked on by half drunk parents and uncles and grandparents. The meal had been prepared and dishes washed, and we were in the uncertain part of the afternoon where those with long drives thought about sucking down some coffee and finding their coats.

My niece Emily appeared at my knee, tugging at my pant leg. She looked at me, eyes wide. Her voice had the edge of a whine in it- all the younger kids were whipping past the point of no return, where every thwarted wish and denied treat results in tears and recriminations. .

"Auntie Lauren? Color with me?"

How could I say no?

"Of course, sweetheart."

She had a box of fat Crayolas and a store brand sketchpad in her tiny fists. We found adjoining seats at the table opposite her mother, who was pecking away on an IPhone.

"Mommy, Auntie Lauren gonna draw with me."

"That's great, honey," my sister said, in a distracted tone that told me she wasn't listening.

Emily unfolded the book, a great expanse of blank, off white paper.

"Draw a horse," she commanded, and I did. It was one thing I really could do well.

"That's a really good horse," she said, and began intensely coloring one of the legs in blue. "Now draw a yellow one." I did as she said.

"Mommy never draws with me," she said, face scrunched in concentration as she intensely worked on the horse's leg..

"Your mommy used to draw all the time," I said, distractedly. "When she was younger."

"Now a purple one," Emily commanded. I complied.

"But Mommy had to grow up," my sister said under her breath. I caught the dig. Years of training meant I didn't miss the flash of a switchblade when it was meant for me.

"Auntie Lauren's a grownup," Emily protested.

"Yes, she is," her mother said, and then stood up, putting the phone to her ear. She was overdressed, like she always was, slacks that probably cost more than my car payment over her long legs. She always had to be the best dressed, best equipped, best everything.

"Yes, Carl, I know it's Thanksgiving, but listen," she said, stepping through the sliding door onto the porch and closing it behind her, giving us a rush of chilly air.

"Mommy's always working," Emily said sadly.

"I know honey," I said, trying to sound cheerful. "Mommy works hard so you can have nice things."

"Color in the yellow one," Emily ordered. I picked up the yellow crayon and began to fill it in. I thought about my big sister, ordering me sternly to never compromise, never give in as I watched her leave for college. She went as an artsy rebel and returned a buttoned up, Ann Taylor clad zombie, talking about gross profit margins and ROI. I was stunned by the change, but all she would say for explanation is that "someone has to be the adult around here."

"Why did Mommy stop drawing?," Emily asked as her mother reentered the dining room, the blast of wind ruffling her silk blouse.

"Mommy had to get a real job," my sister said. "Someone has to watch out for Grandma. You can't spend your whole life drawing ponies."

I let that go, picturing a softball skidding into the dirt, low and outside.

"Your Mom made different choices," I said to Emily, trying to paper over the crack. "People do different things, that's all."

"I like ponies," Emily said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Once more, from the top...

"Yesterday it was my birthday-
I hung one more year on the line-
I should be depressed-
My life's a mess-
But I'm having a good time."

-Paul Simon, "Have A Good Time"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

100 Word Challenge: 2:35AM

The Velvet Verbosity 100 Word Challenge is willing to hit the ball to the right side to move the runner over. This week's word is "Satisfied", and though my faulty brain came up with it too late to make the list, here's my entry, "2:35 AM". It is based on one of the many Steve Jobs stories making the rounds these days.

I clawed my way out of deep sleep. I looked at my phone with one eye. Calls at 2:35 AM aren't good news. I stabbed at the answer button.

"Yeah?," I said. Manners end at around 11 PM.

"It's John," the voice said. My never satisfied, omnipresent boss. He sounded wired.

"What's up, chief?"

"I had an idea. There are three screws under the battery on the prototype."

There were. He was never wrong. "Yeah, there are. Why?"

"Let's make it two."

"But John, nobody takes the battery out. Nobody will know!"

"I'll know."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"Buckets of Rain" (Indie Ink Writing Challenge)

For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Tobie challenged me with "No, this can't be happening. It's too early!" and I challenged Caroline with "Overdrawn".

I had to keep him away from Caroline. I always did. It had been a long time for me, and this one seemed like a catch. I just had to somehow keep him from seeing her too soon, and keep him from making the obvious choice. .

When Alyssa's cousin moved in two towns away from me, I couldn't say no. He passed all the standard tests- attractive enough, not visibly crazy, dresses nice, smells okay. We had a coffee, then a dinner the next weekend, then another, and we seemed to have a rapport. Tonight, he got some theater tickets, with the end of the evening left deliberately left vague.

I had planned it all out, home from work at 6, then upstairs to change and dress, then downstairs at 7:30 so I could meet him in the driveway before he got to the front door at 8. The only thing I absolutely did not want was to bring him inside to be introduced around. He knew I still lived at home until I finished school- I had been clear about that part. And my parents were my parents- embarrassing and awkward, but nothing we couldn't laugh about in our seats before the play. It was Caroline I had to keep away from.

Caroline was my 19 year old sister, and she was gorgeous. That's not the fake praise of a person who loves her sister, but instead it's an honest to God observation. Sure, we looked alike, and when pressed, I might admit I'm not terrible looking. But I was the rough draft- Caroline was the paper you handed in. Men rode their bicycles into utility poles when she walked by, and I lost more boyfriends than I could count, either mentally or physically, when they got a look at her. She was otherworldly, a goddess carved from stone and made of silk, and everyone knew it.

I was walking back and forth in front of my mirror, tiny little mincing steps to make sure I could walk in my ensemble and that I hadn't left anything uneven or off kilter, when I heard my mother's voice, intentionally loud, probably for my benefit, "Why, David! We didn't expect you until 8 or so!"

I froze, and my heart stopped.

"I know, and I'm sorry. I left early to make sure I could find your house, and it turns out it was much easier than I thought."

My mother laughed, a high, fake sound. "That's fine. Come on in! Kelly will be right down."

I heard him step inside. I prayed Caroline was in the kitchen, or in the back yard, or on the phone. I looked myself over one final time, figuring this will have to do. I grabbed my purse and headed for the stairs.

"So what do you do, David?"

"I'm an insurance adjuster," he said. "Not the most popular industry right now."

"But someone has to do it."

"Very true," he said. "I'm glad you see it that way."

They took a couple of steps inside. "This is my other daughter, Caroline," she said.

"Hi," Caroline said.

It's all over, I thought. She never meant to, but something happened when they saw her. She may never touch them, but I lose them just the same.

"Hello," he said.

"So how did you meet our Kelly?," my mother interjected.

I gritted my teeth. God, Mom, stop it. I could picture his eyes roaming over Caroline, her long legs, her carelessly tossed hair, her pouty lips.

"She's my cousin's friend."

"Aha. How about that? Kelly's father worked with my brother Jack! Good things often happen that way."

"Indeed," he said. Jesus, I thought. I was making my way down the stairs, treading as carefully as I could.

"Have you known each other long?"

"A month or so," he said. "I've only been in town 6 weeks. I was transferred from Fresno."

"How nice for you! I'm so happy you two met!" So you can get this one out of my hair, she probably wanted to add.

My shoes emerged into view. "There she is!" my mother said, relieved. "Have fun, you two!" I took a long look at Caroline, who was back to watching Jeopardy and checking her phone. I looked at David, who was looking at me. I let a deep breath out.

We said our pleasantries, and we left. My shoes crunched on the gravel walkway.

"So that's them," I said.

"They're sweet," he said.

"What did you think of Caroline?," I said.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, she has...a way of becoming the center of attention, let's say."

David opened the passenger door of his car, holding it open for me. His belt buckle gleamed faintly where a streetlight hit it. It was starting to rain a little bit. "She is a pretty girl," he mused slowly. "But I'm not holding the door for her."

I got in the car.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

RIP Steve Jobs

My email to

I don't think it overstates one bit to say that the passing of Steve Jobs is the loss of our Picasso, our Rembrandt, our daVinci. I can't say that Apple or Jobs did everything right- I could take issue with their DRM or the treatment of workers in China. But I can say that my life would be worse without Apple products, and people almost everywhere can say the same. Steve Jobs changed the world, and not a lot of people get to say that. Rest In Peace.

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