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Salt: A Modern Fable

“Someday,” he said, clapping a small hand to the boy’s shoulder, “this will all be yours. It will be your legacy. It will be the salt to rub in your enemies’ wounds.”

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I’ve never written a fable before, but when I caught a headline on Politico yesterday, this story jumped into my head. I wrote it for 2-Minutes-Go.

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Salt

More than his gold-plated golf clubs, more than his collection of celebrities on speed-dial, more than any of his trophies, the man loved his salt. He’d cultivated that salt with a patience he’d bestowed on no human in his life. He’d traveled the earth looking for the best location to harvest it, the ideal climate, the primo seaside sunbaked leeward cove, where the big-league crystals collected. But it still was not good enough, the haul too paltry, so he spent a million dollars of his fortune on a magician’s spell to make the minerals more powerful.

That was the ticket.

The salt colonized and crystallized and concentrated and sparkled. The ocean and magic combined to imbue it with the bitter tears of mermaids in mourning, the revenge of white whales, the last cries of drowning mariners, the shaking fist of Atlantis. He brought no one there except his favorite son, on secret missions, telling his wife they were going to the circus, or hunting tigers. The first time they reached the cliffs, the boy looked confused, and the man indulged in a wolf’s smile.

“Someday,” he said, clapping a small hand to the boy’s shoulder, “this will all be yours. It will be your legacy. It will be the salt to rub in your enemies’ wounds.”

The boy didn’t understand, and the man was angry, and the boy grew quiet. But he kept bringing the boy to the cliffs when he traveled to check on his salt, to make sure the enchantment still held, to make sure there would be enough. For he had a lot of enemies. He’d hoped to push some sense into the boy. Like his father had done to him.

During his next visit, as they beheld what the family fortune had purchased, the boy asked, “Is it time yet?”

The man lifted his chin and felt the sea breezes on his freshly exfoliated face. He licked a finger and raised it in the air. “Oh,” he said, relishing what was to come. “It’s time.”

And he took off his expensive shoes and rolled up his expensive trousers and picked down the rocks to where the salt deposits lay, all the while wincing at the pain in his soft, small, pedicured feet. The boy followed his lead, carrying the golden bucket, and soldiered on under its weight as the man filled it to the brim.

The salt was beautiful, and it was his, and the man felt a touch of pride as if it were another child.

When they returned to the city, he climbed to the highest tower, the boy in his footsteps, and opened the windows where the people gathered below. From their shouts he knew that most of them hated him, were envious of all he possessed and of the victories he’d claimed, but he waved and smiled, told a few jokes. Drawing them closer.

Then with one mighty hurl, he emptied the bucket over the ledge, but the wind blew the salt back at him. He tried to duck the onslaught—too late. The last thing he saw before the crystals blinded him was his son, standing behind him, smiling. A wolf cub’s smile.

Flash Fiction: A Call to Prayer

“The tray snapped through and there was no dinner. No lentils or rice or meat he could not recognize. Only a black hood. He said another prayer, put the rank cloth over his head, and waited.”

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A Call to Prayer

The heavy footsteps came closer, echoing through the cool stone corridor, and stopped in front of Aaron’s cell. A man grunted the short, guttural words he’d come to associate with the delivery of a meal, and he waited for it to clank through the hatch at the bottom of the door. By the slant of light through the tiny barred window near the ceiling, and the last time he’d heard the call for prayer, Aaron expected dinner: lentils or rice with a bit of meat. Over this meal he’d say his own prayer, thankful for what he’d been given.

The tray snapped through and there was no dinner. No lentils or rice or meat he could not recognize. Only a black hood. He said another prayer, put the rank cloth over his head, and waited. The man called out a question. Aaron said yes and the door creaked open. By his own arrogance, he’d once learned what was on the other side of the hood—a guard with a rifle—and didn’t think it would be wise to tempt fate again.

He let the man nudge him out and down the hallway, their footfalls ringing in lockstep. Each heavier than the last. Aaron’s heartbeat stole the air from his lungs, the saliva from his mouth. He thought of Jesus on the cross, of that iconic prayer: Fatherforgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

The guard stopped him. A door swung open. He was led forward. Made to stand in a certain place and pushed down at the shoulders. That meant sit, and a hard surface awaited him, and his hands were tied behind his back.

The hood was removed from his face and the door clanked shut and he was alone on a blue plastic chair in front of a flat-screen television. He knew what came next. The interrogator would come and turn on the set and watch with him. When the cloaked men got through their litany of crimes against the accused, the end was mercifully swift; he prayed that his compatriots had not suffered long. Then he would provide the same answers to the same questions he’d been asked so many times. No, he didn’t work for the government. No, he wasn’t with the military. No, the church he claimed to represent was not a front for a ring of American spies.

Part of him prayed that he would be taken next, just to have it done with.

The door opened again. It was not the same interrogator that had sat with him the last two times.

This man gave him a sad smile, almost one of gratitude. “You are Aaron Westbrook?”

“Yes.”

“You are the same Aaron Westbrook who went to Syracuse University in 1980?”

Aaron blinked. “Yes.” This man didn’t look old enough to have even been a sparkle in his father’s eye all those years ago.

“You saved my uncle’s life. He was going to university there. Some men pulled him from his car and called him terrible names and beat him and stole his wallet and left him for dead in the street. He says you took care of him. He speaks of you often. How you got him a doctor and let him stay with you and…”

“Saleh?” Aaron smiled. He hadn’t thought of his old friend for so long. “Speaks? He’s still alive?”

The man nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. In fact, he is the reason I’m here. He recognized you on the news and asked me to find you.” After a quick glance at the door, he started working on the ropes that bound Aaron’s hands. “Come with me. I know a way out. For both of us.”

Flash Fiction: Traitors

Valerie cried all the way home in the back of the black sedan, and even though Alphonso the Secret Service man said nice things to her, and even offered to let her wear his mirrored sunglasses, it was no consolation. She had let her father down. He spent all day helping people get along, the least she could do was try not to punch them.

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While I was working on a passage for my National Novel Writing Month project, one line of dialogue kept pulsing in my head: “I know who your father was.” It prompted me to write this story for 2-Minutes-Go. You can read all of this weeks’ wonderful writing here.

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Traitors

Nobody talked much about her father’s job, when Valerie was little. Mother only said that Papa worked for the government and was in charge of helping people get along with each other, which Valerie thought was a very important thing. That’s why when Ricky Alvarez pulled her hair in the cafeteria and said her father was Benedict Arnold, she punched him in the face. Valerie cried all the way home in the back of the black sedan, and even though Alphonso the Secret Service man said nice things to her, and even offered to let her wear his mirrored sunglasses, it was no consolation. She had let her father down. He spent all day helping people get along, the least she could do was try not to punch them. But over cookies and milk that afternoon, she thought about that again. She asked Angela the cook, whom she always trusted to tell her the truth. “Mrs. Angela?”

“Yes, my little mouse? You would like another cookie?”

“No, thank you.” She set down her glass. “Mrs. Angela, is my father a traitor?”

Mrs. Angela’s lipsticked mouth squinched tight. And she stared, long and hard. “Who is saying these things to you? Was it that boy?” Her fist pressed into the counter. “I will tell your mother, and she will call that awful boy’s father.”

“No!” A bite of cookie fell into Valerie’s lap. “I mean, no, please.” She picked up the crumb and set it daintily onto her plate. That would probably make Ricky Alvarez angrier, and she didn’t want to have to punch him again. Because she thought he was sort of cute. If not for the pulling her hair and the Benedict Arnold thing.

“Your father is a wonderful man. And don’t you let anyone tell you differently.”

“But…but what does he do?”

“He makes the world a better place. That is his job. And we should all be thankful.”

And that was that. Valerie finished her cookie and slunk out. She walked out onto the wide, green backyard, where the gardener was clipping dead branches from the trees, where a camera pivoted atop a tall, sturdy fence post, and looked up, into the sky and the clouds and the sun.

Then someone was talking to her, and the memory dissolved. “Your time is up.”

She sighed. Her father stood, his prison uniform hanging on his thinning frame. “Thanks for the cookies,” he said, and a guard took him away.

Flash Fiction: You’ve Tried Everything

woman-74595_640I wrote this flash piece for last week’s Two-Minutes-Go and wanted to share.

—–

You’ve tried everything. The pills, the chanting, the download-for-half-price-right-now self-help lectures that are supposed to teach you to love yourself and your body, deeply and completely and without judgment. You’ve repeated the affirmations that you don’t need to self-medicate your feelings with a box of Oreos or a jar of coconut-pecan cake frosting and a spoon. But here you are again, another week gone by, another crumpled five in your purse ready to tango. You walk the aisles, telling yourself that because you are carefully considering what that five will buy, weighing how horrible you will feel from eating a sleeve of peanut butter cups versus a sack of trail mix, that makes it better, somehow. Or at least you’ve given yourself the chance to change your mind, even though you know you won’t. Even though you know that you’ll eventually make your choice, wait for a few of the customers to leave, then sidle up to the skinny, lipsticked twenty-something at the cash register and say, “Yes, I’d like a bag, please,” as if you’re not going to eat it all in the car on the way home, as if she doesn’t know that, too. It’s not fair, really. It’s like a secret shame you’ve asked her to carry, without actually asking.

You feel compelled to add, “Oh, that’s for my husband, he can’t stop eating that junk,” and she nods and makes that old, tired noise with her tongue, as if she or maybe an older sister has one like that at home. And maybe she’s not as thin as you first thought, and maybe there’s a bit of a vacant look in her eyes, as if she’s counting the minutes until she can clock out. You wonder if she’d rather be a million other places than behind the register of a convenience store, what her life is like outside this place. And if she too trolls the aisles, buys a random whatever with her paltry employee discount and is surprised to find the container empty when she’s finished her commute.

Something thick lodges in your throat, and as she’s handing back your change with a practiced smile, your voice is barely above a whisper. “It’s for me.”

And then she nods, the smile softening, and says, “I hope you have a better day, hon.”

A Sudden Gust of Gravity on Sale

GravityBookcoverSmallHi, everybody. I’ve been busy writing, but I just wanted to pick my head up and let you know that A Sudden Gust of Gravity will be on sale for 99 cents on Amazon through the weekend.

What readers have been saying about this book:

“Filled with magic, illusion, and allure, readers will be treated to a refreshing and quick read!” – inD’tale magazine

“What I really liked about this book was the original characters: a woman who aspires to be a magician and a sensitive Korean/American doctor with a gangster past. These are not the stereotypical characters you sometimes find in fiction. I also thought the author did a great job of showing the love/hate relationship invoked by an emotionally (and physically?) abusive partner. This was an entertaining read and should appeal to fans of romance as well as commercial fiction.” – Carrie (Amazon reviewer)

“Author Laurie Boris truly has a magician’s sleight-of-hand, transforming this study in potentially heavy, difficult reality into a heartlifting, thoroughly absorbing adventure.” – Amazon reader

And now I’ll return to my keyboard, but I’ll leave you with a new trailer for A Sudden Gust of Gravity. Have a great day!

Sunday Flash Fiction: Deja Vu

navigation-1048294_640This piece was inspired by this week’s 2-Minutes-Go Flash Fiction, and I wanted to share it:

Deja Vu

Lunch wasn’t sitting well, the sudden rise in the humidity was making his sinuses throb like a mother, and Malcolm still had one more job to do before he could call it a week and collect his money.

The déjà vu of the address he plugged into his crappy GPS stopped him for a moment, but then he shook it out of his head and followed its schoolmarm directives. He knew the cardinal rules of the job: have a short memory and don’t get involved. Maybe that was why he drank so much. It helped with the memory part, but it didn’t help so much with the guilt. He woke each morning with the gut-sinking sensation that he’d ruined someone’s day, maybe even someone’s future. But several cups of coffee usually killed that. So did the piles of bills on his kitchen table and the rationalization that if people hadn’t done something stupid he wouldn’t be visiting.

But when he turned up the broken driveway and saw the sheared off gutter dangling by one clamp over the raggedy lawn, one of those smothered memories snuck up and sucker-punched him.

He’d been there before. The driveway had been less choppy; the lawn had been shorter. A pale wisp of a girl, many months pregnant, had answered the door. She’d looked like his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He’d mumbled the name on the papers and she shook her head and he said he was only doing his job and she stood there growing paler and he shoved the papers at her and got the hell out of there as fast as he could and downed most of a fifth of JB when he got home.

Now he turned the car off and sat, staring at the crumbling stairs, the sagging gutters, and one intrepid weed growing straight up out of it. The doorbell glowed orange. The papers lay crisp and stapled on his front seat. His breath quickened. His mind snatched at excuses. Had an accident. Lost the paperwork. Nobody home… His smile dissolved. No matter what he dreamed up, this would not end well for her.

Then a car pulled up behind him. The pale and less-wispy girl flew out, fists clenched, eyes blazing. “You people. You people, haven’t you people done enough? He’s not here. He’s not here, all right? You want him? You go to his girlfriend’s house, you get him there, and you know what? You tell him he owes me for the care and feeding of our child.”

And with that she pointed to the backseat, and the pale, towheaded baby, and the lunch that hadn’t been sitting well in Malcolm’s stomach punched him too.

Her once-pale face flared red, but she seemed to have shouted herself out, so he rolled down his window. She stood with sagging shoulders, her right hand extended. “Okay,” she said. “I get it. The papers are all made up there, and you’re only doing your job, and I guess”—she sighed—“I guess I’ll have to find a lawyer or something, huh.”

“I can help you,” he mumbled.

“Huh?”

Malcolm cleared his throat and said, louder, “I can help you.”

And when he got home, the undelivered summons back in his briefcase, he collapsed into a kitchen chair and made two phone calls. One to his boss, telling him he quit. The second to the public defender, telling him the name and new address of the deadbeat dad.

He then tried to make a third, but the same sort of schoolmarmish voice that scolded him from his GPS said that the number had been disconnected.

The robotic words were still echoing in his mind when he drank the JB straight from the bottle, knowing it would not kill everything that he’d done, but he damn sure hoped to give it a try.

Cover Makeover

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New cover!

Sometimes, the hardest part of change is admitting that you need some.

Okay, here I go (deep breath): some things about the way I’ve been marketing my books are not working. So I’m taking it one step at a time, looking at my book descriptions, keywords, categories, all those bits and bobs self-publishing authors have to learn about to help us become more visible to readers.

The first step in my evil plan to achieve world domination (or just, you know, sell a book or two) is to re-evaluate some of my covers. A lot of publishers refresh their books’ covers over time, as styles change, and I plan to do some of that. But this one cried out to me right away.

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This girl needs a makeover.

I liked the idea for the original cover for Catering Girl at first. But I think it might have been too high-concept for the story. The intention was for it to be a representation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with the substitution of the coffee cup for the little movie camera: the award goes to…the catering girl.

Crickets. Major crickets. Crickets with jazz hands.

In retrospect, I think the intention might have been good, but the overall execution was confusing. The granite texture says serious and even funereal. The frothy, piped-icing look of the title font says “cute bake-shop cozy mystery.” The story is neither of those things. I think I was trying to lighten the tone of a graphic I had fallen much too far in love with, and send a message that “although this story has some substance, it’s also fun!”

Together, it said, “Uh, no.”

I’ve been meaning to revise the cover for a while, hunting for images in my spare time. Everything looked too light and fluffy—poolside girlfriends, umbrella drinks on pristine glass tables. Then I found this lovely number. Something about it said “Frankie” to me right away. It said “snarky and just a little dark, and how does she do that without spilling her drink?” So, I think it’s a better fit and will hopefully select the right readers.

Onward and upward, as they say.