You See a Face Through Your Dark Window

You See a Face Through Your Dark Window

Living in the city she’d always feared strangers looking in her windows, it’s hard not to when your windows face their windows and everyone’s a foot away from each other. She started keeping her blinds closed all the time. She’d leave a dark house for work and return to a dark house in the evening. Weekends were spent in darkness unless she ventured out and she caught herself doing that less and less. She didn’t quite realize it but she’d stopped living and was simply going through the motions.

And then one day she received a phone call. It seems an uncle she could only vaguely remember having heard about, Crazy Mikey, had passed away and she was the closest living relative. He’d left her a few acres with a cabin and come outbuildings in Montana. No, he didn’t owe any taxes and there were no fines as long as she lived there for two years before selling it, which given the report from the solicitor would hopefully be enough time to clean it up.

They call it a decision when you do something like move, but really there was no other logical path to take. She gave her notice to her landlord, sold everything but a few books to help her get where she was going and what clothes she could pack in a suitcase. She took three different flights to arrive in the middle of nowhere and realized the reason she couldn’t find a hotel or any sort of services online for this little town was because there were none. It was little more than an airport and even that was stretching it.

She got off the tiny plane and looked around her at trees. Trees and mountains. And silence. She could hear a hawk or an eagle or something calling in the distance. She could hear something, a tractor maybe, yes, there it was a tractor across the street. If it weren’t for knowing someone was driving that tractor, and knowing a pilot had brought her here, she’d think she was the last person in the world.

“You got someone comin’ to meet you?” asked the pilot.

Startled she turned on an inhale and clutched her book closer to her chest. “Oh, um, no, not really. Couldn’t find any…anything online. I guess I was hoping there’d be a shuttle or a taxi or…something,” she said, her voice getting softer, quieter at the end, as the realization of what she’d just done began to hit.

“Whelp, there’s a farmer over there sometimes lets out for hire his old pickup, but he’s haying so I doubt it’s available today. Where is it you’re going to?”

“I, well, my uncle, Cr…er Michael, recently passed and I’m trying to get out to his, well, my place now I guess.”

There was a beat, a moment when she could tell he was looking at her a bit harder, a glimmer in his eye, “Crazy Mikey was your uncle, huh? Well now, I can take you back up to his place whenever you’re ready.”

“I didn’t realize anyone else called him that,” she said, blushing and wondering if that meant people would think she was crazy, too. Heaving a sigh she said, “I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”

Now he looked at her like she really was crazy, “look ma’am, it’s not my business, but I can’t let you go out there without any provisions. I expect he’ll have some things put up that could get you by, but since he left us at about the time he’d be restocking everything, we don’t really know what’s there. If you don’t mind my saying so, it’s best if we stop at the shop and get you some things to get you through til you can get back to town.”

“Oh, a shop? Yes, please, that would be wonderful. Thank you,” she was a bit flustered at the idea that there’d be a shop out here, at the idea that she was going to be living far enough “out” whatever that meant from this place that was already so remote that this stranger was concerned for her welfare, she was a bit flustered by the whole thing really and began to wonder if she shouldn’t have just sold everything and inherited nothing but a few bucks after taxes.

By the time they stowed her bags in the back of the pilots truck, picked up what few groceries she could find at the shop, which turned out to be the farmers stand, and drove out to Crazy Mikey’s cabin it was getting late. Late, but not dark. It didn’t matter that it was nearly ten o’clock at night, the world was nearly light enough to hike in. She couldn’t believe it. Even more than the near daylight quality out, she couldn’t believe where the pilot had brought her.

It was a good thirty minute drive from the airport and all of that through trees like she’d never seen, and following a river she almost couldn’t believe. She’d seen that Netflix show about that nurse in the mountains, what was it, Virgin River! It was like background shots out of the show, only greener, more beautiful, real.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

The Last Thing You Expected to See on the Menu

The Last Thing You Expected to See on the Menu

The building on Vista Street had been vacant for months. Actually, once she did the math she realized it had been years. Almost two, if she was correct, roughly the same time her last relationship went south. But suddenly there was brown paper in the windows, the outside was being painted, the inside renovated, and as she passed the building each day on her way to and from the office she saw how quickly things were coming together. She was very eager to know what it would re-open as: a gym most likely and disappointingly.

And then one day, there was a sign out front:

NOW OPEN
le donjon
Fine French Cuisine et Suite

She went straight home, changed out of her work wear and took a shower, shaving for the first time in months. She got out of the shower and into a little black dress she’d been saving for her next date, but since she had no idea when that would be she decided to treat herself. A quick smear of eyeshadow and a bit of mascara, a flash of lipgloss, lipstick never looked quite right on her skin, and she was out the door with her little strappy sandals clicking away.

She decided to walk as it was only a half mile away and a lovely evening. She rarely got outside anymore it seemed, always at work or at home pretending to sleep on the couch, Netflix inquiring on occasion if she was still watching. The air was perfect, she could finally tell it was autumn, the crispness to the air becoming apparent, cool and clean and promising. She noted the leaves changing and the advertisements in shop windows promising pumpkins and cinnamon and sweater weather.

The restaurant was clearly just opening for dinner when she arrived and she asked if she needed reservations. “Non, non mademoiselle. This is the advantage of opening mid-week, no one is even aware. We expect it will be overflowing this weekend though, eh? Tonight you will have a friend?”

“No,” she replied with a smile, “seulement moi.”

“Ah, you speak French! You’re accent is suberbe! Ou avez-vous appris a parlerfrancais?”

“Merci. I learned in high school and rarely get a chance to practice, you’re very kind.”

“Par ici, mademoiselle,” he said, bowing slightly and waving the menu towards a table for two.

As she walked in, the waiter following discreetly behind her and pulling out her chair, she noted the luxury all about her. Fine carpets, beautiful linen tablecloths reaching all the way to the ground, the cutlery all obviously new and hand polished, the romantic dim lighting and framed artwork strategically placed around to muffle sounds. This would be the perfect place for a date, she thought as she sat down and was gently pushed forward, her napkin swept off the table in front of her and gracefully lowered to her lap for her.

“You may expect the wine list first, no? If you will permit me, I have a recommendation? You peruse the menu first, oui, and I will bring for you the perfect accompaniment for each course. You trust me,” the waiter placed the menu in her hand before continuing, “whatever you pick, you must start with the apero. I will be right back.”

While she was convinced this meal was going to be terrible for her bank balance, she was so charmed by her surroundings and the knowledge that this would be the best meal she’d eaten in perhaps her entire life, that she set to perusing the menu with gusto. Only as she was reviewing the first course, the promised apero not making it onto the menu as more than a given with no description, that she became concerned. Surely there had been a mistake. Typos definitely. Or more like two different documents had been printed at the same time and the printer glitched, printing the two together, for there, listed under “premier cours” were some unexpected entries:

premier cours
quiche lorraine
scalp massage
brie au four
hand massage
tarte a l’Oignon
lower back massage
souffle au fromage


Should she say something to the waiter? He was clearly going to be very embarrassed if this was his restaurant, as she suspected, or owned by his family. But to not say anything, wouldn’t that be worse. She was obviously their first patron and they’d put so much work into this place that she’d hate to see it fail. He was coming towards her bearing a drink and a plate, she had only moments to decide what to do, and then there he was, placing the small glass and plate before her with a flourish and a smile.

“Voila,” he said, “have you determined your meal, mademoiselle?”

She was blushing furiously, but managed to stammer out, “well, ye…er, no…you see mmm I believe your menu may have some errors?”

“Ah non, c’est terrible!” he said bending down to look at her menu, “please, show me this.”

She pointed to “scalp massage” and then to “hand massage” and her index finger was on it’s way towards “lower back massage” when the waiter began laughing. “Ah, no, mademoiselle, no no no, these are not errors. We are a full service restaurant and you Americans are so tense, yes? So much of this stress and working that you do. We want you to enjoy your meal, to relax, and how will you do this in a traditional four or even five course situation if we do not offer these things?” he looked at her expectantly and also as though she were so silly to not see the necessity behind his words, their simple truth. “And so, I will give you some time. You enjoy this pastis and olives and peruse the menu. I shall return anon.”

She was immediately grateful there was no mistake in the menu but also still confused by something that seemed so obvious to him and so out of place to her. She took a sip of the pastis, mmm like drinking licorice, and popped an olive in her mouth, fantastic, before returning to her menu. The second course also had, what she considered to be some oddities, as did the third. Things were progressing from dubious to downright surreal by the time she got to the fourth:

le quatrieme cours
creme brulee
masturbation
apple cranberry galette

anal fingering
tarte figure

oral sex
fromage blanc

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Create a New Human-esque Race

Create a New Humanesque Race

She’d originally gone in for a check up, a routine annual sort of thing. Blood count, pap, breast exam, the usual. Certainly nothing exciting aside from the one mole she wanted to have checked. Even that didn’t cause a change in heart rate. Speaking of which, her blood pressure was excellent at 120/80. So she was surprised when a few days later her doctors office wanted her to come back in to re-do the blood test.

Still, she wasn’t concerned, her blood pressure still measuring perfect. “What happened to the last sample?” she asked the nurse as a new sample was being taken. “Did the last one get lost?”

With the nurses mask in place there was no way of knowing if she smiled or not, you’d think you could tell by wrinkles around the eyes, but there were none, “I don’t know, I was just told to do a blood draw.” The nurse took the needle out, placed a cotton ball over the drop of blood on her arm, and put a bandage over it. “Doctor should be in soon,” she said as she collected the blood vials, two this time, and the trash, dropping the needles in the big red container, the trash in the trash, and walking out the door. All actions complete in a couple of seconds, all actions completed on auto-pilot.

The key thing, she told herself, sitting on the cold hard exam table, is that I feel fine. No, I actually feel great. Whatever is going on is about misplacement or a quick double check. she had just begun her perusal of the posters lining the walls, “MAKE SURE YOUR DOCTOR SEES YOUR FEET. DIABETES DETECTION…” when her doctor walked in followed by another doctor.

She tilted her head slightly to the left, a thing she didn’t even realize she did when she was surprised or confused. Her doctor was smiling behind his mask, she was sure of it, but the smile didn’t seem like the usual one and as he began to speak she could detect a slight modulation in his voice that wasn’t usually there, stressing some words over others as though they were in a classroom, as though she were a child.

“Good to see you, yes, thank you for coming back in, I know this is highly unusual as we’ve never had an issue with your tests in the past,” he cleared his throat. “This is my colleague Dr. Thinsate and he has been working closely with a new screening test for,” here he spread his hands before her, a universal expression of loss, “I don’t really know what we’re calling it yet, but he can tell you more. Doctor?

Dr. Thinsate was not smiling. Even with a mask on she could tell there was no smile. He was not interested in putting her at ease, and his stiff back and hands held firmly in front of him showed he did not feel he should be in here explaining anything to her. “Yes, well, it’s a bit of a groundbreaking test you see, and we believe your blood could be a key to our understanding of the results. So, thank you for coming back in, and we’d like you to come back again in two weeks and let us do another.”

She was grateful for her own mask as it hid the pursing of her lips, unfortunately it couldn’t cover her entire face and she was sure her incredulity over that little speech was showing in her eyes and forehead. She purposely looked directly at Dr. Thinsate once more before turning back to her doctor, a very pointed I’m ignoring you action, and asked her doctor, “why do you want me to come back?”

Her doctor cleared his throat again, looked to Dr. Thinsate for help, turned back to her and said, “well, it seems you have something in your blood that helps Dr. Thinsate find a bridge between one type of blood and another.” He looked back at Dr. Thinsate pointedly and when he refused to speak up, her doctor sighed and said, “look, I will tell you I don’t know a lot about this. It’s new and not my field, I am a GP. But it seems there is more than a simple difference in personality between empathic people and those without. Some people think it is a biological difference and your blood,” again he looked at Thinsate who looked only at his hands, “your blood is the first they’ve found that isn’t one or the other.”

“I don’t understand,” she said, “none of this makes sense. You’re saying people are biologically wired for empathy?”

“It’s…it’s possibly more than that. It may be that empathetic people are a different sore of being entirely. I mean we’re all still human, right?” he chuckled, but it was pleading, “it’s just that some of us may be…different.”

She looked from her doctor to Dr. Thinsate and could only agree wholeheartedly.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Behind the Curtain

Behind the Curtain

The idea that she’d visit a fortune teller wasn’t so far-fetched, it wasn’t something anyone would expect of her, by any means, but she did quite a few out of the ordinary things, or at least they were out of the ordinary to other people. So this visit to the fortune teller wasn’t exactly odd even if only the fortune teller could have predicted it.

There are people who say that fortune telling is false, fake, a sham. That being a fortune teller is really just being observant. Take the best detective on any police force and they could be a fortune teller and make a solid living. It’s really not a bad retirement. And so while people will say these things, it doesn’t necessarily make it true. People like to deal in black and white, never in gray, and it’s much easier to believe a blanket statement like “fortune tellers are nothing more than observant liars,” than it is to believe that some of them might be more.

She didn’t really know what she believed. She’d never sat down to think about it too deeply. This idea that fortune tellers were shams made no difference to her life so why contemplate it. Bit if she had sat down to think about it, if she had taken a moment to review her biases and beliefs, she’d probably have to say that she was closer to a believer than a scoffer, believed in the spiritual and therefore why wouldn’t she conclude there are simply some things we can’t know but it doesn’t disapprove them, that there was that one aunt she had when she was very little who could always tell when family members were sick or in trouble. And so, why disbelieve.

Even so, she hadn’t set out to see a fortune teller, even though it was well within her circle of probability, she hadn’t intended on sitting at this table with this dark haired cackling man who rubs a ball that could just as easily be plastic as glass, who had insisted payment could wait until the end after having seen the cash in her hand first, who was nothing at all like her idea of a fortune teller in his jeans and t-shirt, bare feet, and a table with no cloth over it. Her mind kept sticking on the idea that there was no table cloth as that was somehow a necessary component or as though not having one meant this specific seer was a charlatan.

It was only after he rubbed the possibly plastic ball on the table, only after he grabbed her hand, only after he’d closed his eyes and raised his face to the ceiling above them painted to look like a sky she noted warily, only after he mumbled before bursting out in laughter that she began to wonder if he was toying with her, if this was his moms shop and he was drunk, playing with her. It was the sharp tone of his laugh, not a deep and hearty joke-well-said laugh like she’d have expected, but a higher almost screeching laugh, as though he was voicing a witch in an animated movie.

She’d decided to leave but before she could stand he opened his eyes and while he ought to have been looking directly at her, directly into her eyes, she could feel the emptiness of his stare, that no one was looking at her even as he clearly was. She began to wonder how quickly she could get out of there, would he stop her, was this how she’d be raped, before the flush of adrenaline rushing through her body could force her legs to stand he began to speak.

All tone was gone, all inflection, he was like a robot, Siri had more personality than this guy. It was like he’d taken a bunch of sleeping pills or like she’d just woken him up and he wasn’t quite awake.

“Your path leads behind the curtain. None will assist you, and you will ask. You won’t come back. There is a woman and you will have to choose.”

At that his eyes closed and his eyebrows came together, his fingers coming up to massage the crinkle they made. When he opened his eyes again he was seeing her. She could feel that he was once again there in the room and rather than this having a calming effect on her now frayed nerves it made tears spring to her eyes and her legs shake with the exhaustion of having run several miles. His eyes became concerned and he ran his hand through his hair before spreading out both hands in a shrugging here’s-your-pizza sort of way.

“Look, I know people are sometimes shocked by what I say, but I have to be clear, I have no idea what was said. This is a private consultation, just you and whatever you heard. People sometimes have follow-up questions and I have to warn you, I can try to help but I’m more lost than you, you at least know why you really came in and that’s usually a clue in whatever you’re told. But I’m getting the feeling that you’re really scared, so if you want to take a minute, I can make us some tea?”

She wanted to nod, she needed to nod, but she still felt frozen. She didn’t realize she was partially raised up out of her seat. No wonder she felt like she’d been running, she was supporting all her weight on bent legs, if this were a date and he went to scoot out her chair she’d still be in the same position, hovering above it, a wax figure of herself. She unclawed her hands from the armrests, stood the remainder of the way, heard the cracking of her knees and reached for her cash, not intending to throw it down but unable to stop herself, her body tense and not responding to her commands.

“No, no thank you,” she heard herself say as she grabbed her purse, and headed stiffly towards the door.

It wasn’t the words she needed help understanding, not that she’d understood them, they made no sense at all, it was the experience she needed explained. What had just happened in there? How had she gone from sitting with a guy at a table to sitting alone as he spoke to her?

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Embarrassing CD

Embarrassing CD

They’d known each other for years in that casual way of two moms in a small town. Running into each other at their kids’ dance class, the grocery store, the library, local festivals. They knew who each other was, would definitely look out for each others kids, but sometimes couldn’t remember the others name and only knew their husbands by face. They couldn’t have told you what the other ones favorite color was, or whether or not the other was gluten free, but they did know they had kids, husbands, and full enough lives that getting to know one another hadn’t really entered into the equation.

And then one day, a mutual friend, gluten free status also unknown, found them together at the park and took the brief smile they’d given each other as their kids set about playing and turned it into something more. “Did you know, Jennifer, that Sheila here also bottles kombucha?”

That was all it took. Jennifer and Sheila got the solid intro they needed during a time when they had literally nothing else to do but let their kids play together, and for some reason having a topic they could both relate to was all the starter their fire needed. They began by discussing secondary ferments and ended by setting a play date at Jennifer’s, “call me Jen, please,” house later in the week.

The kids, of course, were thrilled as kids are to go to a “new friend’s” house and encounter new toys, new pets, new rules. Especially when their mothers were so busy getting to know each other that neither notices or bothered to stop them when the kids opened paints and set to work at the easel in the other room. But this would all be discovered later, and neither mother would be angry, relieved and grateful for the intrusion, the children surprised and appreciative of the repreive.

It started with an innocent comment, something about “liking this song,” the small bluetooth speaker on the counter playing something nostalgic like Carly Simon. That was all it took, the women were now discussing favorite bands then and now, favorite songs even when the bands were no longer relevant, Dave Matthews was brought up and they both moved on. This led to conversations about politics, about musicians as activists, and entire hour devoted to their love of Joni Mitchell, Loretta Lynn, Joan Baez, and of course Dolly Parton. They somehow segued into Taylor Swift and Pink, no, neither mom knew what that tiff was about, and then into Lizzo, “LOVE her!” they agreed. All the while the little bluetooth speaker on the counter shuffled through songs, occasionally provoking another squeal, but usually nothing more than the perfect background to a fantastic discussion.

And then it happened. Jen could never quiet determine when Sheila heard the song playing, or when she pieced together that she knew what it was, who it was by. There was that moment when Jen realized she could have casually gotten up and changed the song, but the moment had been early on had come and gone too quickly, would have required her to be focusing more on the speaker each time it faded out and back in with each change of song, and she was too engrossed in the talk of gluten free baking without sugar to focus on anything else. Plus she’d been sure, quite sure, that she’d set the bluetooth to shuffle through one of her “old lady” playlists as her children called it. She was sure there was nothing in this playlist to offend or annoy or draw attention.

She was wrong.

That moment when Sheila realized just exactly what was playing would flitter through Jen’s mind for years afterwards. Not constantly, necessarily, not even daily, but for years. She’d be driving down Main Street on an errand and remember how Sheila’s head tilted just a bit to the left, how her eyebrows came down together, her chin coming up, her eyes looking up a bit and squinting a little, her mouth opening a bit allowing her to hear better. That look that said “I know this, why do I know this, is this what I think it is,” followed very closely by the head straightening, the back too, the eyes widening, the mouth closing tightly, lips pursed. There was a flash of embarrassment across her face leaving it pink, but nothing like what Jen experienced.

Jen was convinced she would catch fire at any moment. The flush across her chest rivaled any she’d felt with pre-menopause. Flashes of their hour-long friendship whipped through mind, this treasure gained and now lost in an instant. The excuses and apologies came to her lips and stuck there, fighting to be the first said, and so nothing was said, all were trapped in her mouth, impossible with it hanging open as it was, but there you have it.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Birthday Baggage

Birthday Baggage

It wasn’t that she didn’t like to travel, she loved to travel. She loved to see new things, try new food, watch new people, eavesdrop on new conversations…the thing, is she loved to travel, but hated not being home. If she had a home with a comfortable bed, good books, plants, and a dog at every possible place in the world, she’d be much happier. As it was, hoping from hotel to hotel, nondescript and with that smell, that stale perfumed, no-really-it’s-just-been -cleaned smell. Yuk.

At any rate, she’d decided that for her birthday this year she would give herself the gift of travel. It didn’t matter where as long as it was somewhere new. So she chose India. It was one of those places she’d read about often enough in books by people she wished she was, it wasn’t at all difficult to procure the proper inoculations, nor the flights. It was almost happening to her, for her, with how little effort was required from her.

It was only as they were completely airborne, as she was trying desperately to read the book she brought with her which was proving to be not quite as good as expected, that she realized the man sitting beside her had been talking to for some time. She’d assumed it was engine noise, but a quick glance to her left proved it was him. His lips were moving ever so slightly and a sound was coming from him, not talking as she’d originally thought but almost singing? Humming?

Ah, he was repeating a mantra of some kind, she realized. Huh. She’d never actually seen or heard anyone doing that in person. Again something she was entirely familiar with in books and movies but in person came as a bit of a shock. Or more of a wonderous oddity. Looking around a bit more she realized he wasn’t the only one. No wonder she’d thought it was engine noise. The majority of the people she could see from her seat were doing the same thing. Some lips actively moving and other still, all faces calm and composed, all chests rising and falling with their breath.

She realized no one was paying the least attention to her, that most if not all, eyes were closed. She very quietly undid the latch of her seatbelt, held her book in her right hand, her index finger marking her place, not that it’d be hard to find, she’d been reading the first two pages over and over again without really reading them, and stood. Her right knee popped and she glanced quickly to the man at her left. He continued his chanting uninterrupted.

She’d love to do that. She’d love to go so deep within herself that she didn’t notice the sounds around her. Swim within her own quiet soul. It would just require quieting her soul, and she wasn’t ready to that yet, or maybe she just didn’t know how.

She took a moment to look, really look, around the plane and just as she’d suspected, the majority of the passengers were chanting quietly. Even though each person seemed to be making their own sounds, the sounds together were lovely and she felt a bit like she was at an orchestra. There were some deeper sounds coming from the back of the plane, some higher notes coming from the far left, someone not quite in sync with the others but not entirely out of place coming from the front.

There were only a very few people asleep or trying to read, as she’d been trying. No one seemed to notice her head floating above her seat back as she made a last sweeping look around and slowly sank back into her seat. She had just taken a deep breath and was about to sigh it out when she realized her seatmate wasn’t chanting anymore.

She almost screamed as she realized he was looking at her, she was so shocked, his eyes so unexpected. She swallowed the scream and realized he wasn’t smiling exactly but his eyes were certainly turned up a bit at the edges and his mouth was soft, the way lips would look in their sleep or upon waking up, before the doings of the day had quite caught up, causing the tightening, the clamping, the frowning.

She wasn’t sure if talking was allowed when people were chanting. Would saying something right now break this feeling they’d all created, this energy that seemed to be holding the plane up. She was sure of it now, the more she thought about it, the more sure she became. The people chanting were keeping the plane up, moving, she mustn’t interrupt. And then he spoke.

“Is it good?”

“The chanting?” she asked, thoroughly confused.

“The book. The book in your hand. You haven’t put it down.”

She looked at the book in her hand, had forgotten it was there, she looked back at the crinkled eyes, “no, I wouldn’t say so. Can’t seem to get into it.”

He made a sort of hm noise, a sort of ah, which she realized he couldn’t have done, the two sounds so different from one another. But he did. Make those sounds.

“Have you read this?” he asked as he pulled a book from the bag at his feet.

It took a moment to tear her eyes from his and focus on the book in his hand. It was a meditation book, a chanting book. One she’d actually been meaning to bring on the trip and read, hoping to fully immerse herself in India. “I haven’t yet. It’s on my list.”

“I’d be happy to swap,” he said, turning the book up in his palm, an offering.

“Thank you,” she felt like an automoton, accepting his book, handing him hers. Checking to see if she’d left a book mark in it, realizing her finger had been the bookmark, looking back at the cover of the book now in her hand before returning her eyes to his.

“It’s signed,” he said.

She cocked her head slightly trying to make sense of this. Before realizing he meant the book he’d given her. She opened the cover and turned the first page, and there, sure enough, was a scrawled name. “Thank you,” she said again.

Her words sounded too loud and she realized the chanting had stopped. She glanced past her seatmate and saw some of the passengers had fallen asleep, or taken out books. The sound of the engines now taking over were nothing at all like the chanting and she wondered how she could have confused the two.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Killing Your Best Friend’s Wife

Killing Your Best Friend's Wife

Who would have thought I’d agree to this…I never would have. I mean, if you’d asked me yesterday if I’d help my best friend kill his wife I’d probably have laughed, or given you that “are you crazy” look, or said you’d had enough to drink, or something. I mean, I definitely would not have said “yes, of course, what are best friends for?” But that’s essentially what was happening. Or at least that’s what my friend thought was happening.

See, he’d married her when we were all still kids. They didn’t hardly know who they thought they’d be, not to mention who they’d actually be. None of us did. I knew I wanted to be a nurse, in the ER if I played my cards right, but them? He just wanted to work a local job that’d let him have weekends off and she just wanted to be married with kids. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m a feminist, after all. If she wants to spend her life raising good humans, good for her. No, great for her. The world needs good humans.

The problem was, none of us got it right. At least not for ourselves. I was the one who ended up at home trying and some might say failing to raise good humans, while she pretended not to be jealous and went back to school for a degree. Her husband was the only one who came close, he got a job where he was home weekends. The rest of the time he was gone though. Times were tough and he was able to get a job at the mines which meant being in another state all week long, sleeping in a cheap hotel at first and later renting an apartment with a fellow mine worker. All they did there was sleep, so you can only imagine the kind of place he got.

Still, I thought we were all mostly happy. I mean, who is really happy happy? Nobody. But we were mostly happy. She’d come over during the week and help me make dinner or fold laundry and I’d help drill her on legal stuff that I didn’t understand at all, but didn’t need to as long as I could read and tell her she was right or wrong when quizzing her. He came home on weekends and even though we were still technically best friends, I hardly ever saw him because he tended to drink and sleep for two days before heading back to the mine. We were all just making due.

I tried to talk to her once about the babies. The lack of babies. It’s a tough thing to bring up, I’ll tell ya. No one wants to talk about miscarriage, and I should know cause I had one too. But having one miscarriage in a sea of living babies is so different than several miscarriages in a ocean of emptiness. And not to say her hurting was worse than mine, pain isn’t a competition, it’s just to say that not everyone can talk about things and not everyone who can talk about things can find someone to listen. I tried to be both the talker and the listener, but it seems she wasn’t either one, and that was that.

But how’d we get to me agreeing to kill her, you ask. It’s a good question. I wish it was a simple one, and maybe it is. Maybe it’s as simple as she knew about my first baby, the one after the miscarriage, the only one my husband knew about. Not the miscarriage I mean, my husband never knew about that. I’m talking about the baby. The first baby. She knew about it, and he didn’t. And you wouldn’t think that would matter much this late in the game with five additional babies, but it does matter, because he’d just threatened to divorce me, again. And this time I was afraid he’d actually do it, and if he did, how was I going to support these babies? And especially how if she told him the first one wasn’t even his?

At first he wouldn’t believe her, wouldn’t want to. But then all those times where he’d look at me and say how the baby looked just like me and why wasn’t there any of him in there? And then he’d think about the other babies and how they all look like more of a mix of us. I mean sure that second baby looks just exactly like him, but she has my ears. And that third baby looks exactly like me, but she has his eyes. And yes, that third baby looks like our genes were thrown in a blender, the puree poured into a baby-mold, so much of both of us it’s hard to see the child as her own person. But see, that’s the thing, too, isn’t it. They’re all girls, those other babies, the ones that are his. But not that first one.

“Daddy’s” pride and joy, the boy, the first. He wouldn’t want to believe the child wasn’t his, but he would. Just give him a few days. And then if he called in paternity testing I’d be done. There’s no way I could get support for that baby, and I’d need support. I didn’t have a nursing degree like I’d like, I didn’t have rich parents to fall back on, I didn’t have a husband…or at least I wouldn’t anymore. I’d need that support. For all of ’em. For a little while anyway.

The question of why I would help is therefore pretty straight forward. She caught me getting re-pregnant with the UPS man one day, one day about three days after the miscarriage, a day when I was so exhausted by the loss, so unable to figure out how to tell my husband about it when he returned from his trip back to his grandma’s funeral, a trip I should have been on but I hadn’t exactly been feeling well before the miscarriage, and he hadn’t wanted to risk me getting worse and losing the baby. That’s rich. I lost the baby anyway, didn’t I. And then there I was trying, in my hormonal haze to “fix” the situtation.

I swear if that first and only boy wasn’t the very best kid I ever made I’d regret the whole damn thing. But I can’t. And none of that’s really important. The thing you ought to be asking me is why the devil did my best friend want to kill his wife anyway?

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

Save Yourself

Save Yourself

It had started as a celebratory Happy Birthday card insert, the glitter, or confetti rather. Just as little something to make her girlfriends smile when they opened their cards. And that very first card, it was a surprise and everyone smiled and laughed and yelled “Happy Birthday,” again, because they’d already been through all that multiple times. But anyway, after the second card the next month with more confetti, it became an expectation. So every time they got together to celebrate a birthday, there would be her card and there would be the confetti.

After the first year though, she realized that maybe it was time to stop. She’d gotten glitter this time, agreeing that confetti had “been done” the year before and now something new was needed. An upping of the game if you will. So she used glitter. And maybe, although unlikely, the glitter would have been okay if they’d been sitting outside on the patio of a restaurant or perhaps even in the backyard of the birthday girl, but instead they were in her home, in her living room no less, when the card was opened.

To be fair, her Ladies Who Lunch group had become accustomed over the prior year to shaking their cards before opening them, shaking their cards and their heads with one of those knowing and obligatory half-smiles. So the birthday girl in question had shaken the card. And she’d heard…something. She just wasn’t sure what. She knew it wasn’t confetti, they’d all heard that sound enough over the past year to know the sound, but she couldn’t quite determine what the actual sound was. There almost wasn’t a sound, she was beginning to think the card was safe when she caught the sound of…something.

Very gingerly the envelope was opened. Very carefully the envelope was held and peered into. And while everything appeared shiny, there was nothing particularly worrisome found in that glance. And so it was only as the card was being extracted, only as the first grains of glitter began to fall that the ensuing chaos of the situation could be felt.

Glitter, as you well know, is a nightmare of long term proportions. It isn’t something that gets vacuumed or swept up and life goes back to normal. Glitter is a thing that finds its way into every crease of your skin, every fiber of your carpet, every everywhere. Glitter is the worst possible gift that keeps on giving.

But it was too late to stop what was happening. Even as one or two women began to notice the shimmery specks fall to the floor, it was too late. Even as she reconsidered this upping of her game, it was too late. Even as one woman launched herself from her seat in an attempt to catch the falling sparkles from hell in her wine glass, figuring it was better to have to dump out her drink and get a new glass than to have to terminate the party early due to disaster, it was too late.

The glitter went everywhere as the card was opened. Everywhere as the glass of wine stretched out in an effort to save the day, spilled and gave the glitter a wet and sticky ride to further reaches of the room. Everywhere as the birthday girl stepped back in surprise, her arms automatically rising above her head to steady her and so she could more easily see the woman now prostrate on the ground before her, the wine seeping into her carpet, the glitter now a swiftly falling cloud around her head.

It was by now much much much too late to do anything about the glitter. And yet, she found herself thinking, “huh, that was perhaps not the best idea.”

But that was neither here nor there.

The thing is, it happened. And while it only happened the once, the Ladies Who Lunch had apparently decided it would not happen again. Only she was the last to know.

It would have been simple really for the Ladies to simply cut her out of the next get together, or at least the next birthday lunch get together. Easy. But they didn’t. She assumed her profuse apologies had paved the way for her continued invitation, but she should have known, perhaps even did have an inkling, a feeling somewhere that something wasn’t quite right. But if she did she ignored it. And that’s how she came to be here.

It was Gilda’s birthday lunch. Gilda who always chose The Cheesecake Factory. Always. But here they were in Gilda’s home. Not just in Gilda’s home, which she’d never been invited to not once in five years, but in the depths of her home. They’d all been given a tour, a tour that culminated in the basement. Not one of the Ladies was missing. Not even Fran who’d had a bit of a falling out with Gilda two years ago. Everyone was there. And everyone was in black.

Everyone except her. Had she missed the memo? Not only was everyone in black but the entire basement had been covered and draped and clothed in plastic. Not like a couch covered in your grandmothers plastic, more like, oh she knew she’d seen this before…it was like what painters would use to keep the floors from getting paint on them. Oh, there it is! She remembered now, it was the plastic she’d seen in that HBO show about that cop and his son and the daughter and the son ended up being a cop but also a murderer, what was that show…Dexter! Yes, Dexter.

Oh.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

He Didn’t Have Time to Go to Jared’s

He Didn't Have Time to Go to Jared's

How could he possibly have known he’d be proposing? He wasn’t even in a relationship with anyone…well, actually, that wasn’t entirely true, was it? He’d been sort-of dating Simone for months now, but they were just, what was it, “friends with benefits.” He wasn’t even entirely sure he could call it that since they didn’t start as friends and technically weren’t even friends now. She was a fuck buddy, but apparently that wasn’t a nice thing to call someone. Irrelevant, sometimes the truth hurts.

But that’s neither here nor there. The thing is, he was going to marry this woman. Not Simone, this woman. He didn’t even know her name. He didn’t know if she snores, has good hygiene, wears those terrible pre-faded/holey jeans he can’t stand. He didn’t know if she liked sushi, drank beer, could listen to that pina colada song without singing the words. He had no idea who she was, but after watching her kick that guys ass, he was in. And he was in all the way.

See, the thing is, he wasn’t much into violence, in fact, he’d go out of his way to avoid confrontation, something that had earned him a difficult to remove label in grade school. But it’s just his way, a fight always seemed like something no one ever won, so what was the point. And it didn’t matter if it was verbal or physical. No fighting, ever, he couldn’t handle it.

But this? This wasn’t a fight. This was perfection. This was karma. Or something… Probably not karma cause isn’t karma a Buddhist thing and aren’t they all passivists or something? Whatever. The point is, this was exactly the way the world ought to work but never did. Like when there’s no cop and every car seems to be speeding and swerving and generally implying that everyone around them is seconds away from dying catastrophically, but then a day later when that one car is doing five miles over the speed limit and gets pulled over. Bullshit.

But not this. This was the opposite of bullshit. This was flowers and rainbows and unicorns. Or something. It was epic. He’d watched the whole thing, heard the whole thing, too. Although he’s sure no one noticed him, it was kind of a thing he’d perfected since grade school. Anyway, he’d seen and heard the whole thing, and he would testify to that if it came to it.

What happened was, this guy, this sleazy, bougie, frat boy type guy had been coming on to her at the bar. It was obvious. He was not at all afraid of the whole place knowing that his awesome self was interested in this chick at the bar who would be throwing herself into his arms any minute. Guys like that were so useless. But the thing is, she wasn’t. And she wasn’t rude or quiet or subtle about it. She was clear. She was calm and polite, waiting for that douche to finish his long and much too loud entreaty, and then, looking him full in the eyes, she said “no, thank you,” before turning the other way to continue her interrupted conversation with the woman next to her.

You could tell this guy, this “Brad” we’ll call him, wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened. He was clearly not used to hearing “no,” but even more shockingly there seemed to be this confusion about whether or not her dismissal had been debatable. Despite how clear it had sounded to the rest of the bar, this elite little shit seemed to think she was waiting for further persuasion.

The people around the bar, not those by the old-timey looking jukebox that was actually a false front for a full musical collection with everything from country to rap but everyone else, heard when he said, “Awe, come on beautiful, I just want to buy you one drink!” slapping his hand on her shoulder. And everyone saw, even those by the giant cloud of tunes speaker, when in one smooth motion she stood up, took his hand from her shoulder and somehow threw him to the floor without moving, stood over him, releasing his hand, and said very clearly and with just enough tone, “no.”

That was it. I was in love. She was everything. She was perfect. Here was a woman who wasn’t interested in conflict, who avoided conflict, but who stood her ground. A woman who could take conflict and flip it on it’s dumb ass.

I didn’t have time to go to Jared’s, how could I?, but this was it. This was the woman I was going to marry.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here

A Life of Lies

A Life of Lies

“I have a confession to make. I never really…” this was harder than I’d thought it would be. I cleared my throat, the fingers of my right hand gripped tightly around the fingers of my left, and tried again, “Remember how I said I’d take care of everything, how I was making enough and had my savings,” I took a deep breath then blurted it out, before I could stop myself, before I could try to doctor it up, “I have to declare bankruptcy. Er, rather, we have to.”

The look in her eyes was gutting, I could see as she went from encouraging, her eyes clearly saying, “I love you, I trust you, you can tell me anything,” to confused, the way her eyebrows would come down and together wrinkling above her nose in a way she hated. Then, it started coming, the confusion was there, but in the background, like an afterthought, now front and center was anger tinged with disbelief, the eyebrows now in opposing positions, one up and one down, as though they were the two halves of her brain fighting for supremacy of her face.

“What are you saying, exactly?” she asked, “Are you saying we’ve run through everything or…?” she trailed off and I could tell that my next words would determine our entire future, I knew I had to be careful, but I couldn’t keep up the lies.

Sighing, I opted for the full truth, “I’m saying I lied. I’m saying, I didn’t have any real savings, I mean I had a couple hundred bucks, but not any real savings, and I was making decent money for a single guy, but…” I took a deep breath, “I’m saying, I wanted to give you what you wanted and I didn’t stop to think about whether or not I could.” Her face had taken on a tinge of color I’d come to know as “fury” and realized what I’d said had been misunderstood, I rushed in to clear things up, “And this isn’t on you, at all, that’s not what I’m saying. I just,” I ran my hand through my hair, shrugging and laying them out before me a universal gesture of “my cards are on the table, “I thought I could do what I said, I thought I could give you this life we wanted and I didn’t stop, not once, not the many times I could have to tell you it wasn’t working out, because I was just so determined I could do it. I didn’t tell you when I couldn’t keep up with the big bills, or when I couldn’t keep up with the small bills, I didn’t tell you when I knew I’d have to take on a second job or when I realized even that wasn’t enough. I was so confident I could rally, that I could find a way, that there’d surely be some outside intervention, and then there was, only it wasn’t what I’d been hoping for.”

She was still looking at me, which I figured had to be a good thing, but the emotions flying across her face were changing faster than I could keep up and I wasn’t at all sure that this would end well.

Her shoulders, which had slowly been tightening up, suddenly dropped. She closed her eyes and raised her hands to her cheeks doing this thing where she kind of rubs them a little, like she’s getting makeup off or trying to warm up her face or something, but I know that for what it is, she was buying herself some patience and keeping herself from saying the first words that came.

When she lowered her hands and opened her eyes, I saw that she’d made a decision, and instinctively tensed already sure of the verdict. So I was surprised when she said, “I can’t talk about this right now, I’m late.” She grabbed her keys from the sideboard, a jacket from the hook above it, and turned to the door. With her hand on the knob and her back to me I heard her say softly, but with enough power that she’d know I’d hear her, “I need to see it all. Everything. Write down every lie. Give me every bill and every bank statement. I want it all, everything, on the table by tonight.”

And then she was gone. I couldn’t even tell you what jacket she took or if she had her purse. I couldn’t tell you if she turned before closing the door to look at me. I hoped she did, no, no I didn’t. I didn’t want her to see my face. I was sure she’d know exactly what I was thinking, what I was feeling.

Relief.

I knew, maybe from the tone in her voice, or maybe because she took that moment to rub her face, but I knew she would forgive me. More than that, I knew she was going to fix this. That’s what she did, what she does. She’s a fixer, and I knew she was going to take this on, take it over, make it right.

Everyone said I didn’t deserve her, and they’re right, I mean, they’re probably right, no, they’re definitely right. I don’t deserve her. I don’t even know why she stays with me, I mean, that’s why I’d been so quick to promise her I could do it, take on everything myself and give her the time and space she needed to try something new. To not worry about the day-to-day. I was confident that if I could give her that, if I could give her this thing she wanted that no one else had ever given her, that I’d seal the deal, that I’d somehow earn her.

But I’d messed it up. First with the lies, I mean how hard would it have been to just say, “I would love to offer you this, but I can’t right now,” or “you deserve this, and we’ll get to a point where you can have it,” or even “wow, that’s such a great dream you have and maybe someday we can make it a reality.” Anything. I could have said anything. And I went with a lie. And that was it, what do they say about lies, one lie begets another or something? Well, it’s true. I went with the whole macho thing, the whole let me take care of you thing, and it went from one lie to another lie to another. Sometimes in the same sentence. Definitely in the same sentence. It started with “I’m making enough and I have my savings.” Lies couched in truths so I could tell myself I wasn’t lying.

And now because of all those lies, because I not once considered sharing even a portion of the truth, we were broke, looking at being homeless, looking at being alone if she decided to leave me. I’d do anything to prevent her from leaving, like lie.

This #writethirtyminutes session was prompted very loosely from “A Year of Writing Prompts” by Writer’s Digest, available here