fiction

Last Touch

A tire spun, the one not furrowed by speed and thrust. Smoke wheezed from the buckled steel hood. Engine guts, half-erupted and splattered with oil, steamed in glossy, iridescent blackness. Beside his twitching foot lay an unwrapped breakfast sandwich. The smells of sausage, cologne, and sharp copper ghosted the car, floated out the broken windows, past the craggy blades. If his eyes worked, they would still see McDonald’s in his rear-view mirror. They had looked, in fact, cost him precious reaction time. That, plus a novice driver’s penchant for overzealous turning.

A deer in the road. Nothing had ever been so surprising. A deer. Right there. Where a second before had been open road.

He took the wheel too hard over and flipped the Subaru his parents gave him for his sixteenth birthday. Dumb luck his side hit the pole. The last thing John saw was wood grain, dark and deep like the lines on his mother’s eyes. And some rusty staples. A triangle-shaped scrap still clinging to one. He had time to recognize Death. First his skull hit the glass window, then the telephone pole.

John’s focus had been behind him, on McDonald’s drive-through. Even as he fished in the bag for the breakfast sandwich, he glanced behind and conjured her. Emma had said, “For you,” kissed it, and dropped it in the bag. “Pay me later.” She winked. The feathery touch of her hand as they passed the bag would be the last physical thrill John would know. As he gazed dreamily in his rear-view mirror, it was her face he saw, her lips against the paper wrapping.

John couldn’t wait to devour that sandwich. But when the unbending glass and wood splinters entered him, it was Death who laughed and opened his arms for a sweet embrace.

This flash fiction was inspired by the weekly Microcosms prompt/contest.

 

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Personal Journey

A Tale of Two Writing Gigs

Yesterday I had two writing gigs. TWO! The first one was in a library where the security guards pack heat, and there are two of them patrolling the aisles. It’s a library where you get buzzed into the restroom and there find lurking an odor more corrupt than King Tut’s tomb or my son’s gym bag. It’s a sick marriage of the two. The bathroom air makes you feel dirty.

Somehow after the break, the smell of vomit which was strong in the bathroom followed us into the classroom. Not sure if it was the baby some desperate-to-write mother brought (and I give her kudos for that brand of desperate) or if somebody puked during break and then thought a valiant push-through would be a good idea. Note: Unless you’re a bona fide anorexic, hurling on break and then returning to a roomful of healthy people is not courteous. I felt myself contracting Norovirus as we sat there. Where’s a vat of Purell? It was difficult to concentrate. And it was the first meeting. The one where everyone’s made of ice and has something to prove. There were so many students, intimacy was a challenge. Or maybe it was that the room felt haunted and there was old gum stuck to my seat.

At one point the moderator asked if anyone had written any short memoir pieces. I raised my hand. He asked what it was about. I told him.

Moderator: Wow. That sounds amazing. I’d like to read that.

Me: (shrugs like a gawky teen girl finally asked to dance) I’d like you to read it.

People with social skills don’t say things like that. Might as well have been this.

Moderator: How are you?

Me: Desperate. Want to be my friend? Oh, and I’m creeped out. Why am I in a library that feels stuck in 1925 and smells like a thousand armpits?

No. The answer is good. I’m good. Thank you, Mr. Moderator. And the answer to “I’d like to read that” is to smile. And say nothing.

My second gig was the local library’s workshop. It was like coming home. Cozy, warm, familiar. It is a blessing to have a group of people with whom I can share the journey. The “security guard” in my library only works during the after-school hours, presumably to herd the youth who use it as a way station. This should alarm us. First, because enough youth have no place to go after school and/or can’t get there because we don’t bus them. And second, because as a collective, these half-finished knobs of humanity warrant a security guard. It should alarm us that in some meeting somewhere a disheveled and half-mad librarian, fresh from wrangling obnoxious pre-teens, proposed the idea that managing other people’s kids was above her pay grade. Solution: library security.

With no lingering security guard, no rank odors assaulting my senses, the second meeting was lovely. Both were lovely in their own way. And they were hard in the way socializing is hard for an introvert. I tire quickly. My dear friend Kathleen pointed it out. She’s the kind of person who notices things. Makes her a great writer. But I wasn’t too tired to notice Cyndi sees the virtue in other people’s writing and is able to buoy a floundering, squirming author. Or how contagious Nancy’s excitement was and how useful her clever plot ideas. Larry, new to writing, has inspiring tenacity. Especially for revisions. Scott, two T’s can always be a stand-up comedian in addition to writing. Scot, one T leads us faithfully and his journalism expertise is a gift. I missed Alexia and John. The meeting lacked gore and glamour, and the two of you know why… AND lacked spirituality. Paul! Nobody’s flying when you’re not there. (And I miss your super-discerning critique.)

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Sorry this post degenerated into a personal letter to my buds, but sometimes you just need to give a shout-out. Love to the people who sustain me, both in the physical world and you who read. My blogging friends have been the source of many smiles. To the folks beta reading my novel, thank you! Especially James, who is taking the time to discuss the clunks honestly and thoughtfully. Not only does he not crush my dream, he emboldens me.

Here’s to writing gigs, uncomfortable and comfortable! And to friends who make everything possible.

 

 

 

on writing, Personal Journey

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

2017. Crushed it. Really and truly. Those of you who know me know I beat myself up at regular intervals. I raise self-flagellation to an art form. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself. If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do me no harm. I like to think I have an Anne Lamott aren’t-I-funny? aren’t-I-endearing? eggshell personality. Or that it comes as a side-effect of being rejected on a regular basis. All this to say, I’m not accustomed to patting myself on the back. But for 2017, I’m making an exception.

With 2017 I am thrilled, even with the number of rejections. Because rejections mean I’ve been trying. Rejections mean I’ve been hit and I’m still in the ring. In fact, I stayed in the ring and completed my first novel.

RESOLUTE was my word for 2017, and I’m proud to say it matched my year.

There is so much more to writing than just writing well. Does that seem obvious? Or confusing. I thought if I just wrote well, I’d be well read. If you build it, they will come. But noooooo. They don’t come. They don’t. You have to build it, repair it, arrange it, repair it, raze it, re-build it. Then, you may commence begging…begging for them to come. I BUILT IT, PEOPLE! You say. (then you hear the echo) You get the bullhorn out and street-preach at them.

If you build it, they will not come. You must go gather them. In 2017 I committed to spending time each day reading and commenting on fellow bloggers. The more I read, the more inspired I became. What started out as a commitment to encourage others, ended up encouraging and growing me. And along the way I’ve met some cool writer-friends.

I’m not a planner-blogger. I post whatever is in my mind. If the mind is full of cobwebs, I don’t want to give you cobwebs. I just wait. This explains my large chunks of blog silence. A commitment to a regular posting schedule is one of those things that sounds good on a list of resolutions, but is not realistic for me. My goals for 2018 are to get Trespass represented, publish more shorts and flashes, and have less cobwebs.

My 2017 writing accomplishments.

  1. Finished my novel, Trespass. It’s out to beta readers now, and I hope to send it to agents in 2018.
  2. Four works accepted for publication.
  3. Several flash/shorts out to literary journals, awaiting news.
  4. Wrote/edited almost every day.
  5. Took part in writing contests whenever I needed a break from my novel.

It was a physical year as well.

  1. Hiked a volcano in February.
  2. Ran my first ten miler in April.
  3. Ran my first half marathon in October.
  4. Got slow and fat over Christmas.

My whole family had a sort of Rocky Balboa year. Perhaps this stuff is contagious. I credit my husband with getting the ball rolling. Each of my children worked hard, challenged themselves, and took giant strides out of their comfort zones—whether it was a work promotion, a new sport, or an ambitious school schedule.

This is how my kids inspire me: I’ll be jogging, feeling like someone scooped out the flesh of my quads and put led in there…wanting very badly to walk. Or fall over. Then I think of one of my kids and how they don’t stop when it gets hard…and I don’t stop either. I can’t give less than I ask of them. Competition at its finest. And the more I overcome in one area, it spills over onto others. I expect 2018 will have its challenges and blows. If it please God, I plan to stay in the ring.

Happy New Year!

 

Personal Journey

Winging it with INK

I credit several people with my tattoo. First Katae, who made the whole thing happen and gave me a forever birthday gift. Next my husband, who puts up with this manifestation of a midlife crisis. My daughter Tory, whose trip to the parlor (do they call it that anymore?) got us talking about matching tattoos. My son’s swim coach: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And finally, my dear friend who I never thought would get a tattoo, got one. I’m such a follower.

In college, Katae found her love of ink and piercings. When she and her roomies got bored, they wouldn’t go to a movie or play a violent game of spoons like my generation. Nooooo. The way to combat boredom in the new millennium is to whimsically get permanent marks scribbled onto your flesh.

Katae

What could be more special than mother-daughter matching tattoos? Our ink is in the same place and consists of the same words—each with our own flair. My “flair” caused the tattoo artist much consternation and at one point he sighed and said, “I’m just going to wing it.”

I be like THIS IS A PERMANENT THING, DUDE. NO WINGS. GET THE PROCESS SHEET, THE RECIPE, THE POINT-BY-POINT DIRECTIONS. HAVEN’T YOU EVER HEARD OF MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE? But I kept my mouth shut because I was already becoming one of those people. You know, the one who shows up empty-handed and empty-minded, without a printed copy of exactly what she wants, the one who has only a hazy idea and let’s-spend-all-day-figuring-out-how-to-pirate-this-obscure-font one. That one.

This font was worth it.

Now I know why, when I went searching for script tattoos that wrapped, I found one. One hit. Do you know how many pictures of body art populate cyberspace? Should have been a red flag. When the artist warned me he would be getting frustrated during the stenciling phase, I started to understand: this was not the usual order. Of course. I’m one of those people who never orders a dish as it’s described on the menu.

The frustrating part: stenciling. “Winging it.”
No, I’m not bored. But I do have a philosophical look going on. I think I’m questioning my sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tattoos are from Isaiah 43: When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God. – Isaiah

Every time I look at my tattoo, I’ll think of Katae. And I’ll remember God and how He remade my life.

fiction

Fiction: Tight Flight

I pressed the call button. Pinned to my window seat by the slumped behemoth of a man, it was the only thing I could do. His flesh oozed beyond the arm rest, assaulting my left thigh with an intimate, maddening pressure. His body heat passed through his polyester pants, through my jeans and ignited a wick of claustrophobia. Wasn’t there a weight restriction on standard seats? If he could afford sustenance to maintain nether regions the size of Russia, he could afford a first-class seat that would contain them.

First-class’s seat tray could not be put down, for obvious reasons, so First-class had the plastic cup wedged between his legs, which he spread well into my section, as defined by the invisible, but no less real and authoritative line that extended from the end of his seat into the seats in front of us. First-class let out an animal grunt, snapped his gargantuan legs closed, cracking the plastic cup and spilling soda all over the seat and floor. His head lolled, unfortunately toward me, and there remained. Eyes closed. Mouth open.

The seat belt sign was on, so I guessed that explained the absence of the blue-clad flight angel who should appear instantaneously, lean over the seat and ask in hushed, soothing tones, “Can I help you?”

Not like I hadn’t tried to rouse the sleeping leviathan myself. When that didn’t work I pressed the button. Seven times. It was moderately aerobic because I’m short and the ceiling buttons were just beyond my reach. Weren’t flight attendants handsomely paid to defy turbulence and saunter the tiny, lurching aisles like runway models?

Ten minutes later, still, no attendant.

First-class roused and swung the arm rest up, unleashing the full scope of his girth. I all but vanished.

This flash won community pick in Microcosms and was loosely inspired by my friend, Nancy.

fiction, Poetry

Christmas. Finished.

 

On linen and straw

lay a birth and a death.

God hedged by flesh

shepherds, magi.

It pleases us to imagine

God just born, vulnerable

delivery’s slick dross clings

the ache of mortality.

It’s comfortable: God

on bovine-scented straw

held in woman’s arms

and a lowly one at that.

It’s Christmas: a keening deity

swaddled. Bound

by a choice to come

die. One day. A black Friday.

Not Black Friday savings

markdowns, slashed prices.

But marked, slashed, battered

He saved us.

It’s God:

carrying His death and ours

to a far-off hill, an infinite burden.

A mustard seed must die

For a tree to thrive.

Centuries’ old tradition

…finished.

In linen and blood

hangs a birth and a death

God hedged by flesh

Crucified.

fiction

Journey to Bethlehem

The woman winced. Again. Her breath took on a raggedness. Her words broke through clenched teeth.

“How much farther?”

“Not much, Woman.”

He’d been mentally referring to her as woman since he found out. It helped. The woman was pregnant. The woman had a special touch from God. He was not to abandon the woman.

Woman was not an insult. But they’d agreed: it was how he loved her, saying her name. Softly. Over and over. He hadn’t said her name since he found out. Not once. If the insult cut her she didn’t let on, else she was fixed on riding out the pain.

Even after the dream Joseph couldn’t bring himself to think her name. The angel commanded: he was not to leave. In cases… like this, a quiet separation was a gift, was merciful. Some men, pious men, would have stoned her. Fashioned of jealousy and pride as he was, Joseph figured the plan was to break him first, before the inaugural wails of the infant-God made landfall. There was one reasonable expectation a man may have of his virgin wife. One.

And…in a gesture of unparalleled irony, He had them travelling. Now. He didn’t know who was punished worse: the pained one, or the witness. Every so often there was a sharp intake of breath. “Like being run through with a serrated blade,” she said, when he asked what it felt like. That was when he dropped their gear and let her ride on the back of the beast.

Never before had the donkey held anything but freight. Something told Joseph, maybe it was the lingering echo of the dream, but it told him in no uncertain terms: the beast would not buck her. The gear would be replaced. Innumerable gifts would be brought. As Joseph held the tether and trod the parched and crenulated ground, an alien certainty overtook him. A waking dream: the woman’s name was still beautiful, would always be beautiful.

A needling anxiety to get to their destination settled upon him, as if the world behind them fell away with each step, and was falling faster and faster. To Bethlehem they marched, because of the census. Caesar and his arbitrary decrees. Like sand grains they were blown with no discernible purpose to a city he no longer called home. But the unborn child would enter the world, either here in the open plain or in Bethlehem, if they could make it.

*Thanks to Michael for the heads up on this fun Christmas challenge. Michael’s son wrote a lovely little poem, and being the homeschool mom I am, I dig that. Though I have been known to write poetry, it’s usually when I’m angry. I hope the folks at Mindescapes.net don’t mind I used their image to create a flash piece. Want to join? Go to Mindescapes Christmas Challenge 2017.