Short Stories

Week 10 Maple Embrace

The more people I meet, the more I realize how common depression is. It’s a sad truth and a comforting reminder that we’re not alone. Friends who understand have saved me more than once from slipping and burrowing myself away into a world of seclusion. Before I was out in the open with my own struggle with depression, before I even knew what to call what it was that sank so many of my loved ones into a place I couldn’t reach them, I was alone in it. The nature of depression is to make you feel alone, to make you feel that your life is the worst and your pain is the strongest. It’s a beast that rears its head and tries to coax you into believing that nothing good will come again and that the fog of numbness you’re lost in is your life.

When I vocalized my pain and realized I wasn’t alone there was a rush of freedom that directly led to my healing. I think that fear and shame keeps people from admitting to it, it kept me, and only adds to the weight that pulls them down.

There are many bloggers and writers who are actively making the depression conversation less taboo and because it’s something that’s close to my heart, it’s something I intend to write about more. I’ve watched those that I love most struggle with it all of my life and the battle beats on and continues to wreak havoc but I’ll wait knowing that words do so little against a beast so great and while I’m waiting I’ll hope and love and bleed words.

 

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Maple Embrace

Every morning when she woke up she told herself to go through the motions, get dressed, brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on make up. She reminded herself to eat, to kiss her children and hug them and look them in the eyes when she told them that she loved them. Some days it proved to be too much. In between breakfast and good morning hugs she’d find herself pressed against the closed bathroom door, trying to sob without making a sound until small knuckles rapped on the other side.

“Can we have chocolate milk?”

She would lift her head and wipe her face before answering, she would breathe in and out and then say yes or no depending on what she’d given them for breakfast. That morning she was on the bathroom floor before daylight while pancake crumbs mixed with globs of syrup covered the breakfast table and her three children danced to Beyonce.

When the familiar knock came she wiped her eyes before her oldest, standing on the other side of the door half dressed and covered in syrup could ask his question. “Yes,” she said, “You can have chocolate milk. I’ll be right out to pour it for you.”

There was no answer. She heard eight year old feel shuffle then a voice that almost sounded like her husband’s said, “Oh, ok,” there was a long pause before he finished, “I was just wondering what you’re doing in there.”

When had Alex grown up, she wondered. Her husband had asked her the same question at least a thousand times in the 10 years since they’d been married.

“Just going to the bathroom” she tried to sound light.

“On the floor?”

She stood and unlocked the door, trying to smile and hoping that she looked tired and not like she’d been doing what she’d been doing.

“Sorry sugar.” She said then reminded him to put on a shirt when he ate.

Alex moved in for a hug and she wrapped her arms around him, wondering again when he’d gotten so old and how she’d ever be able to bear watching him become a man and leave home. She hugged him tight and marveled at the fact that she no longer had to will herself to hold him. When he was a baby, her first, she reminded herself to love on him. She had to tell herself to kiss his head and pull him onto her lap when he fell. She forced the feeling of annoyance away from her face and when she hadn’t noticed, it faded from her heart until he stood before her at 8 and she genuinely felt the desire to show him affection.

She’d loved him with all that she was from the moment the doctor put him in her arms and the world around had faded away, she cherished him above all others and herself but she wasn’t versed in the art of love.

Like a rabbit, caged but never touched, she felt so strongly what she couldn’t show.

She could love her husband at night, in the dark when dreams creeped in from loose slats in the floorboards, when life was more than an arms reach away and she was nearly someone else. She could do that, and had always been able to, but their hands were never entwined on long road trips, she couldn’t let him hold her when she was sad or kiss her at the end of a long day. When he tried her skin crawled and her lungs hurt from the effort of holding in screams of pain so he’d stopped trying and again she was a caged rabbit, untouched and loved from the other side of barbed wire.

When she was pregnant she feared the life that grew inside her, the rumble of flesh and bone that promised to change everything and feared it more because she knew it wouldn’t.

“I’ll love him.” She promised the emptiness of the air on nights she couldn’t sleep.

Wake up, get dressed, brush your teeth, love your children, she told her ceiling every morning, and she did and she had.

It didn’t fill the emptiness inside her, the love she learned because of a boy covered in syrup, the darkness that sank her to the dirty bathroom floor still lingered and would take her again but she felt power in that maple embrace and released Alex from it with a kiss on his head and a reminder about a shirt. He nodded and smiled and yelled into the other room that his brother had better leave his legos alone then ran down the hall. She shut the bathroom door behind her and followed him to wipe up syrup and pancakes and to kiss sticky faces good morning.

Standard
Short Stories

Week 9 Glittering Seas and Greedy Fae

Mama brushed the hair from my face and slid her finger across my cheek. Her voice rose and fell in all the usual places when she sang me Sweet Afton and when she finished she told me to scoot over and laid her head beside mine. Her breath was sweet when she leaned in to rub our noses together and I giggled.

 

“Can you say Wynken and Blynken on your own yet?” She asked.

 

“Yes Mama” and I stretched my arms up in the air and wiggled them while I stalled for time and tried to remember the first few words.

 

“Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night…” Mama led me to it.

 

“Oh right.” My arms came crashing down and I said, “sailed off in a wooden shoe-”

 

It took me a few minutes to get started but the middle was my favorite so I remembered it without any prompting. I imagined that the cliffs outside our house and the boring blue ocean below had turned into a glittering sea that floated into the air and was filled with sights more beautiful than I had ever seen and that three little faeries were busy throwing their nets from a shoe like Daddy did from his boat but they were happier and there was no fishy smell.

 

I stopped and asked Mama what Wynken, Blynken and Nod fished for in the air and she whispered in my ear, “They fish for the stars.” Twirling a strand of my hair around her finger she said that the three were greedy little faeries and that faeries covet the stars more than they covet kisses from children or the voices of the oldest singers in the world. She said that they sell them at their markets and trade stars for true love.

 

I made a splashing sound with my lips and spit got on Mama’s face. She wiped it off and looked at me smiling.

 

“Sorry.” I told her and she kissed me on the forehead. She offered to finish the poem for me, and I told her that I knew the rest but was too tired to say it.

 

“That’s understandable” She nodded with a serious expression, “you’ve got a lot of dreaming ahead of you tonight.”

 

Mama looked into my eyes through the dark while she said the last of the poem, making her nightly promise through the words of Eugene Field,

 

“So shut your eyes while Mother sings Of wonderful sights that be, And you shall see the beautiful things As you rock in the misty sea Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three…”

 

In mid yawn I cut her off and finished,” …Wynken, Blynnken and Nod.”

 

I asked her to sing me another song and I laid my head on her chest and listened to her breathing while I mouthed the words. Her heart beat a slow bump, bump and more than the song she sang, it made me want to close my eyes and drift away. Her hands in my hair pushed me forward and I slipped but before I fell into dreams I said, “Daddy says you’re not really here.”

 

Her heart stopped beating.

 

“He says you’re dead and that I’m confused.”

 

For a moment her chest disappeared and my feather pillow took her place. My heart stopped too for fear that by speaking them, I’d made the words true. I was cold and all of the sudden scared until she came back to me and I heard her say, “What do you think Ashley?”

 

“I think you’re here.” I said.

 

Mama’s heart started beating again when I spoke and her hand closed, almost hard, around my waist, the other in my hair, unmoving. She swallowed and words she wanted to get out stuck in her throat making a cracking sound until she was able to say “And don’t you ever forget it.”

 

Then she began to sing again and the waves outside and her voice and the slow bump bump beating of her heart wrapped me up and carried me away to glittering seas and greedy fae.

 

Standard
Blog

Quitter

I quit everything.

The violin? Quit.

The flute? Quit.

Soccer? Baseball? Every guy I ever dated.

Quit. Quit. Should have quit sooner.

I’ve never stuck around when what I’m doing feels off until writing.

The week I had was kind of a bitch. My Mom came to visit and everything that happened after she stepped off the plane made me feel like I wanted to climb into bed and pull the covers over my head until it was time to take her back to the airport. I survived and managed to write everyday which was a victory in itself. At one point I locked myself in the bathroom and wrote on the floor for 2 hours. To be able to write through the pain felt amazing even though everything I wrote was awful.

None of the words made sense and so many times I wondered why this wasn’t getting any easier. Normally I love writing even when it’s hard and bad but this week I resented it. It is my solace and I couldn’t understand why it was being so stubborn and bringing me no comfort.

This weekend I wrote for 6 straight hours and produced nothing. I’d write an hour or two, reread my words, cuss then delete it and start over.

Deleting words breaks one of the cardinal rules of writing, the rule that says we should keep our crap and hope to polish it one day when we’ve distanced ourselves and come to it again with new eyes. I was too angry at writing this week not to be a bit blasphemous toward it so I deleted with glee and scoffed in the face of what I love.

My long and as usual overblown point is that it’s Sunday night and I’ve got nothing but I won’t quit. I’m going to wave at midnight and keep writing. It was suggested that I skip this week, or count my hours as a finished short story, or chill out and realize no one will die if I don’t keep to the schedule. All of that may be true but now I feel like all the roaring voices of characters waiting for their tales to be told are asking me a question about what I’ll do when writing feels impossible.

The answer is that I won’t quit.

In the meantime here’s the song I’ll be listening to while I write, because Jason Aldean is hot and I love feeding my dramatic tendencies. Maybe it isn’t the only way I’ve known but it’ll be the only way I know for writing:

 

Standard
Blog

Blog Hop

Thanks so much to Debi Smith at Hunters Lyonesse for asking me to join her on this blog hop! I wish I’d started it two weeks ago when she first sent me the questions, unfortunately I’ve procrastinated and am writing my answers over a carton of sweet and sour chicken at the tail end of a great birthday weekend.

What are you writing?

I’m working on writing one short story a week for a year and posting it on my blog. I challenged myself to this task because of a strong desire to write well and often and to make the stories mean more than filled pages in notebooks. I wanted to focus on improving my style and the stories I tell and to move forward with my writing goals and my attempts at getting published. So often I’ve stood frozen for weeks and months, not writing anything because of the fear of it being bad. I thought that forcing myself to purge and keep purging the trove of tales I keep locked within would help me to break through a block I’ve been stuck behind. So far it’s done exactly that, and though I’m only now starting on week 9, every day I write it gets easier to keep going. I’m working on submitting some of these stories and rewriting others to see if there’s more to them. It’s turned into much more work than I ever imagined and I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. There seems to be no room for a drought of inspiration when I force myself to keep going.

I’m also working on a novel that gets put aside too often but that I work on daily anyway even if it’s only a sentence or an idea scribbled on the corner of a notebook.
Why do you write what you do?

I only write the stories that ask to be told. When I sit down at my computer or with a notebook and I begin with the first word or the first few, I often have an end in sight but it rarely goes the way I want. I write what I do because that’s what comes when I call and because when I ignore the cries of the untold story I feel myself begin to itch and move around, restless, longing for something that has never been. If I had my choice I’d write fantasy or Sci-Fi but my heart and my pen lies rooted in the earth and takes me where it wants me to go.

What is your writing process?

Insanity.

Just kidding. My process is probably a lot like any other mothers. I juggle laundry and try to get the dishes done before they spill out of the sink. I play baseball and feed ducks, read as much as possible, and write in 5 minutes slivers of time on park benches and in grocery store parking lots. The serious work begins when my husband is home. I spend a few hours at night and much of the weekend with headphones on and my back to the door of the library while I try to chisel at the surface of something that might one day be beautiful but is now nothing more than a pile of dung. I don’t answer the phone or emails, I try to ignore Twitter and I write. There are times I can’t be stopped and times that writing is like attempting to harvest cotton from a wheat field. I try my best to take it seriously and work as hard as I can when it’s time to because every minute I spend at my keyboard is time that I take from my children and though I need to write as much as I need to eat or sleep, they need me and don’t understand the siren like call of the story.

Like anyone else who isn’t getting paid to do what they do, and probably most who are, to write and to live is to master the art of juggling while bombs explode behind your head. For me it’s dramatic and difficult and wonderful and I’d never choose anything else.

Check in with Síofra Alexander  next week where she will answer these questions and keep the blog hop hoppin’!

Standard
Short Stories

Flickering Flame -week 8-

I never post a story without first consulting a friend and sometimes I wonder if I would ever write anything at all without them. I write, read it over and wait a moment before hitting the send button on my email. What if it sucks? I remind myself that sucking is ok. Really, I almost believe it. (Are you seeing a pattern in the lessons I’m learning in these early weeks?)

Insecurity seems to be second nature for writers, or at least all the writers I know. We’re not good at believing in ourselves, but we’re excellent at believing in one another. We’re the best at surrounding each other with a love laced in truth and sarcasm. I’m not sure how I got so lucky, and I don’t know how I survived 28 years without your advice and support but I’m glad you’ll be there for the next 28. (because at 29 we’re done!)

This story almost never left my notebook of ideas but thanks to good friends and late night readers it made it to its first draft. I hope you like it!

Flickering Flame

I thought that death would be like lighting or firecrackers shooting off on wet pavement, but it was neither. Life was the flicker of a candle followed by a soft blow, I became smoke rising, thick and sour and then I was nothing.

It makes no immediate sense, the things you remember from your life. I remember warm covers and being wrapped in a cocoon of white and green. I sighed into the morning and looked at the ceiling above lit up by yellow sunlight. The room around me shone with the sharpness of it and I turned to my mother still sleeping and listened for birds I couldn’t hear. I watched the rise and fall of her breathing and felt contentment, though at four I would have only known that I was happy. I was consumed with it until all I felt was light and all I heard was slow breathing.

Mama stirred and opened her eyes, happy to see my face so close. She looked more beautiful in that moment than I’d ever realized before and I took the picture of her messy hair and flyaway bangs and I held it captive in the trove of memories that hurt and healed and remained until the day I died. Her face was clean and puffy from a long night’s sleep and when she brought her hand to my face it was warm, as if it was the last part of her to wake. She propped herself up on her elbow and rubbed her eyes with her free hand. She yawned and pushed wavy hair from her face.

“Mornin’ honey.”

I yawned in response and shimmied myself further into the folds of the comforter and quilt and I closed my eyes.

“How’d you sleep?” She asked turning to peer through the window above the bed. I giggled, squeezed my eyes shut and drew in a gulp of air through my nose, snoring.

I heard the smile in her voice when she took up her part in our game. “Oh no, my little darlin’ has gone back to sleep.”

I snored again and laughed, turning my face into the pillows.

“I guess I’ll have to go get doughnuts by myself.”

I sat up and said, “No.” Then she laughed and pulled me to her chest and put her head in my hair. Her lips smacked in a kiss and I gave one back to the air.

“Doughnuts it is!” Mama stood and pulled the blankets from me into a big mound of softness at the foot of the bed that I wanted to climb back into. The cold air hurt and I shrieked and pulled my nightgown over my bare legs. Mama laughed at me when I took her pillow and hugged it close.

“Up and at em lazy girl.” She threw a pillow that had fallen on the floor, it hit me in the face and I threw mine at her missing by a foot. She smiled at me and went into her closet. I laid back on the bed, bringing the sheet with me, a shell of the warmth I’d had before.

Mama shed her nightgown as she pulled on a pair of jeans and turned to the mirror to check the fit. She made a grunting noise, then said something I couldn’t hear and took the pants off again, revealing green underwear and white skin. She turned to me and rifled through the top drawer of her dresser. I thought she was beautiful standing unclothed and I wondered if I would ever catch the sunlight the way she did. She reminded me of ‘majesty,’ a word I’d heard in a book Daddy read aloud the last time he was home.

I couldn’t articulate what beauty meant and so she was my answer for it, the definition of beauty in the form of a woman who’d endured three pregnancies and only one living child. When I was four I didn’t see her cellulite or her scars. The place that I came from slashed across her stomach, meant nothing to me then. She was smooth and glowing.

She threw shirts on hangers to the ground as she cursed then apologized for it. She tried on another pair of pants then three shirts and as she pulled each over her head and piled them on the floor she sang that her love was deeper than a holler, stronger than a river and higher than pines. I laid on my stomach, my chin resting on my hands while she moved around the room. I tapped my feet in time to her voice.

“From the backroads to the broadway shows with a million miles between.” She sang.

Her breasts moved freely with her hips and swinging arms until she picked up a cast aside bra hanging on the handle of the open closet door. She put it on and twirled to the oak dresser as she moved bare hips to music only we could hear.

We sang three more songs while she dressed and somewhere in the middle of the second I got up and went to my room where I could still hear her voice and I put a tshirt on and jeans and my jellies and went back to her room to find her putting on makeup and singing about golden bands on other hands, another of her Randy Travis favorites. She’d put on jeans but no shirt yet and I leaned on the dresser while she penciled in lines under her eyes and put color on her lids. Stopping in her work for a moment she looked sideways at me and smiled then picked up mascara and unscrewed it from its tube.

“You take forever.” I complained thinking about sprinkle covered frosting and hot chocolate.

“Almost ready” she promised.

When her make up was set and she’d looked at it from every angle she picked up a shirt from the pile of discarded clothes that made her curse and she put it on over her head, careful not to smudge her work.

She made a final turn in front of the mirror after she slipped her shoes on, flattening her hand over her abdomen. She groaned and pulled up her shirt to reveal a freckled stomach, mumbling to her reflection that she was getting fat. 

“So fat.’ She shook her head then turned to leave.

“Lets go sweets.” She called over her shoulder as she left the room.

I took her place at the mirror after she went and didn’t leave until she called for me from the open front door.

I don’t know why I remember that morning now, though I probably will if I’m patient and lucky. I don’t remember if I had a boyfriend in high school or what my father’s face looked like, I don’t remember my best friend’s name or if I went to college but I remember the important things. I’ve read my favorite books a hundred times since I died, I’ve played fetch with my dog Max and held my babies as they slept. I remember chocolate and the deepest kiss I ever had, I remember springtime in the mountains and I remember that morning.

I know nothing more now than I did when I was alive except that life is the flickering flame of a candle and memory is the air it fades into.

Standard
Blog, Short Stories

Week 7- My muse commits murder & a short story.

I made it to week 7 of my 52 stories in 52 weeks challenge!

Alright, 7 isn’t such a high number but every week I don’t quit is one more notch on the writer consistency belt I’m trying to earn, and one more week I didn’t throw my pen down and declare myself a failure.

In the past seven weeks I’ve completed more first drafts than I ever have before. They’re not all good, but they’re all stories that I pushed from my brain onto the computer and paper and the back of my four year old’s drawing of a badger (don’t tell him please.) They’re stories that wait for my return and another edit (or 20).

This week’s struggle (because lets be honest, there’s always at least one glaring struggle) was concern that all my stories sound the same. I was about halfway through this week’s tale of Diana and her older sister when the bitch that battles my muse (I call her Gretchen) sat beside me and said, “You know what? That sounds like everything you’ve ever written.”

I shook my head and told her that she was wrong and she smiled and said, “Okkkkkkkk” in the same annoying way my brother used to when I had a crush on a boy in school and denied it.

I sat and stared at the words and said “oh shit” out loud and spent an hour telling myself not to push the story off a cliff and watch it die the slow death of highlight and delete.  It was a painful conversation but by the time my muse got back from her break and I yelled “It DOES sound like everything I’ve ever written!”

She looked at me and said, “So what?” Then she pushed Gretchen off the cliff and I ate a candy bar.

Realizing that it was ok for my stories to sound similar was as easy as a schizophrenic conversation with myself.

I finished the story and repeated the mantras my muse forced upon me as I wrote:

“The story doesn’t have to be perfect.”

“The story will not be perfect.”

“I will not be perfect.” (Whatever muse, you clearly haven’t tasted my chocolate sheet cake.)

With an almost idiotic snail’s pace I accepted that while it’s great to be on week 7 there are still a lot of weeks to go and many more stories. I now know that I have a tendency toward the same place and similar characters in my mind but I also know that the words of Maya Angelou are true, ‘Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.’

Doing the best I can is exactly what this challenge is about. I am working to craft the words and ideas I already posses into stories that need to be told. As I read more throughout the weeks and write more, I’m learning. As I learn I new words and new ideas I hope to begin to grasp what it means to be a writer and a collector of tales. As the weeks go on, I hope to do better.

Thanks all for coming along this journey with me!

Here is week 7′s story:

——————————————————–

Shallow Grave

Her skin glowed, stagnant and shining. Beads of moisture covered her face and ran at odd intervals down her neck and chest. She heaved on the bed and made a noise like a barn cat in heat. Her eyes opened then squeezed shut. She threw her head back and called my name.

The old woman by her side made a clicking sound with her tongue then began humming a song I didn’t know while she worked between my sister’s legs.

Diana cried out again for me and the old woman turned and said “water” then dismissed me with her hand and looked at my sister again. Patting her leg she mumbled low that it wouldn’t be long.

I walked through the dark shack and felt around the kitchen for a cup. Outside Connor barked. I could hear him pull on his chain, trying to break free from the tree and get inside the house to Diana. Anxious for a breath of air I opened the door and told him to be quiet. Trees cast shadows from the light of the moon and I jumped several times, unused to the dark of the country the way I’d once been. Connor barked, then whined and rolled around in the dirt until I kneeled beside him and told him it would be alright.

The only source of light inside the shack flicked against the dark in a room now filled with my sister’s cries. She’d been like this since the previous night and I’d covered my ears and asked God for a quick relief to her pain and a birth that produced a healthy baby and a healthy mother.

A day later, I clung to Connor, ruining my only good dress in red dirt and I didn’t ask God anything. I didn’t cover my ears. I didn’t wish for a healthy baby.

“I hope she’ll be alright” I said to the dog.

His breath was heavy and low and joined blowing leaves and my sister’s screams in a chorus of nighttime noise. An owl called out from his perch in a pine tree. A gunshot rang from some distant hill. Diana’s screams filled the void in the night where prayers belonged.

“She’s got t’ be.”

Connor licked my face and whined and Diana’s sobs softened so that I could hear the old lady’s song.

She needed me but I couldn’t move. Lulled by the far away humming and a solid bed of bark against my back I fell asleep and woke hours later to daylight and Connor’s head in my lap.

I couldn’t remember a morning when I’d woken feeling so refreshed and before my eyes could focus I was convinced I was at home and that the last 24 hours had been a horrible dream. Connor whined and I remembered his head in my lap.

I didn’t have a dog at home.

I heard footsteps and turned toward the shack in time to see the old lady crossing the yard of dirt with a bundle in her arms. I stood and apologized to Connor for knocking him away so fast.

“Is she alright?” I asked to the wrinkled face with no expression. The bundle in her arms didn’t move.

“No” she said and my heart fell to my feet.

She handed the baby to me and I saw a face so pale and ugly I would have laughed if I could have done anything.

“You gotta name her.” Wrinkled hands touched my bare arm then asked if I had a husband to help with the burying.

Though covered in blood she was so unruffled by the loss that I felt calm for the few breaths of a moment it took to answer her.

“Yes,” I said, “but he won’t help.”

We buried my sister behind the house in a grave that was shallow because the old woman had no more strength left and I couldn’t make myself believe I was burying my best friend and my little sister.

“That baby ain’t got a name.”

I said nothing but watched the old woman shake her head and leave without saying anything more. It took her ten minutes to walk the short distance from where my sister was buried to the woods behind the house. I hadn’t noticed the small path beaten down in a thin strip disappearing into the dense forest of trees and brush. When she stepped onto it seemed to appear from nowhere. I turned with the baby toward my car and when I looked back she was gone, up into the hills from where she came.

I remembered Connor as I opened the car door and left it ajar with the baby squalling on the front seat while went to I untie him from the tree. I took the rope from his collar and he stayed sitting on his haunches. I wished I could take him home but Joe would be mad enough about the baby. If I took Connor he’d shoot him.

“Goodbye.” I scratched the soft patch of hair in between his ears.

He didn’t move until I pulled the car back from the place it was parked. It moved with ease and Connor looked to the empty house and stood a moment, listening. The last glimpse I had of Diana’s beloved pet was from the rearview mirror as the car turned around the bend, he lay with his head on the top step of the porch, his eyes closed, his body still.

The baby didn’t cry on the long drive home until the sun was high and bright in the sky. She must have known that I could do nothing for her empty belly and I held the steering wheel as though the answer to all the problems I faced was in my grip. Sugar-water and a rag was all that I had at home if Joe hadn’t found the secret stash I was keeping to make Diana a cake for her birthday.

When I’d traded mother’s pearl earrings for a small bag of sugar and flour I hadn’t thought that Diana would never see the age of 22. I’d have to trade them for milk now if I could find it or beg one of the nursing mothers in the shanty town near the house.

I turned the key and felt the car come to a still in the dirt driveway. I hadn’t looked at the gas gauge out of fear on the ride home and now that I did, I saw it was less than empty and I spoke to god in thanks, then wondered at my own words.

Joe was raging when I walked through the door and I knew without looking that all the food I’d left was gone. The baby began to wiggle in the crook of my arm as Joe slammed his fist into walls and demanded to know where I’d been. He’d found no work while I was gone. He was hungry. He said I looked like I’d eaten and he wanted me to give him something. I stood in the open doorway with the baby clinging to my empty breasts and I laughed at him for a few terrible moments, not once connecting the look on his face to the pain I would soon feel.

He grabbed my arm, already yellowed and purpled from his past bursts of emotion and shook until he saw the bundle I held and jumped back like it was a gun pointed at his heart.

“Take that damn baby back wherever you got.”

He turned away from me and picked up a jug, putting it to his lips he pulled hard and swallowed while I told him what happened. He looked at me after and I wondered where the kind man I’d married had gone. On our wedding day I had seen the life we would live as I walked toward him down the aisle and I was so happy. The overwhelming joy I saw with such clarity then seemed liked a dream now.

“Another whore dead.” He said stumbling over his feet as he walked across the room and sat in my father’s chair. “Good riddance.”

He danced with Diana on our wedding day and I remembered her laughing at something he said while the music lent it’s almost unearthly beauty to the hot summer evening. That life was over now and the evidence of its ending was the blood from my sister’s body soaking into the red Georgia clay. It was the gravestones of my parents, and my husband driven half mad by a life worse than death. It was in the starvation and deprivation and in the belief that everything that came before the moment I lived now was a beautiful lie.

The baby cried.

While he flipped through the first few pages of one of his old novels, his mood evaporated, and without looking up from his book he told me to put the baby into the river behind our house. “It’ll be better.” He didn’t say it with malice, and I knew he was right.

“You k’en do it, or I will.”

I could hear the river rushing through the open windows and wondered what Joe would say if I asked him to bash my brains out on the slick rocks after I got rid of the baby.

“We a’int got nothing for it.”

I looked at him scratch his nose then sniff and wondered if he meant the words as an apology. If I wanted, I could have taken them that way.

For minutes we stood in silence as he pretended to read. The baby started to cry and soon was shaking in her fury. Joe didn’t move, he waited then turned his head slightly in my direction and without looking at me rolled his eyes and sighed. A few more seconds went by and he picked up an empty bottle and threw it at me, telling me without words to go.

I didn’t think about the baby or my sister as I walked toward the river, only how hungry I was and how much I wanted to sleep. I knew the water would be cool and that slipping my dress over my head and immersing myself in its folds would be almost as satisfying as roasted chicken followed by a long nap, but when I got to the soft bank I didn’t take my shoes off or let my hair down. I held tight to the baby that thrashed now as she screamed and I looked into Diana’s infant face. I wondered what name she would have given the baby then remembered that she always called her dolls Sarah.

“Alright Sarah” I said to the tear streaked face, “lets go find you some milk.” I didn’t look back at my house when I crossed the river, moving carefully over wet stones and took the wide path that led to the train tracks and the small makeshift village of drifters. I didn’t wonder at my life as I walked or quicken my pace when I heard the back door slam and Joe yell my name. I held tight to Sarah and I walked away.

Standard
Blog, Short Stories

Week 6

Week 6 will go down in the history of this challenge as the week I wanted to quit but didn’t because my friends are awesome and Jack Daniels tastes amazing in sweet tea.

Both have helped me through this writing week, one more than the other.

I’m lucky to have great friends, the kind of friends that tell you hard truths in a way that’s so gentle you don’t even know you’ve been let down. The kind of friends who give compliments that are sincere and believable but only on occasion because they know how compliments make your skin crawl. When that little cluster of writer friends says anything, I tend to believe them.

I sent out furious emails early this week about a short story that was too long and too raw to publish. “It’s good.” I wrote, “Or at least it WILL be good.” I moaned about my problem and wondered aloud and through several emails if I should try something else, or post it anyway, or cry and eat chocolate and mourn the death of my challenge and career as a writer.

One good friend who takes my drama in stride said something calmly that had never dawned on me before,

“I think if you write a story that doesn’t measure up, you can state on your blog that you wrote, and it doesn’t measure up and why, and not post it… It’s still there, written. 52 stories. Not 52 stories shown to the world.”

I had to re-read what he wrote a few times. I felt like someone was telling me the world was really round when I’d thought it was flat.

Excuse me? I don’t have to post them all?

I breathed in and out, excited at the prospect of not having to show my ass to the world in the form of 52 first drafts. I tried to feel at peace about the fact that not everything I write will be good.

I’ll write it again.

Not everything I write will be good.

Crap.

So I filed the story about Fae and two little blonde girls into the box of unsatisfying stories I now keep in my desk drawer, stories that aren’t ready to be born into the world or go beyond their first draft yet but stories that I believe have potential. I know I’ll place many others in that box before the year is out, some of them I’ll post here and some I won’t, and they’ll join week 6, who now lays alone “Stupid Story” typed across the top of the page just below my jumped cursive that reads, “There are no rules.”

Thanks to great whiskey and better friends I survived week 6 and moved on to 7 that is now half done and not half bad.

Thanks for joining me on this journey, y’all!

 

Standard