Flash Fiction Sunday: The House

house-54570_640I want to share one of the flash fiction bits I wrote this week for 2-Minutes-Go. It’s a fun freewriting, freewheeling word adventure. Maybe one day you’ll join us.

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The House

You’ve passed the house a hundred times at least, in all seasons, when the leaves swirled around the horseshoe drive, when the snow piled up against the mailbox, when the water ran down the culvert in sparkling ribbons, when the boards on the small front porch popped loose from the heat. You’ve passed it so many times you feel a kind of ownership, and you pluck fallen branches from the driveway, and cut down the pokeweed that grows tall over the mailbox, and fret over the chipping paint and the buckle in the asphalt and the shingles that blew off in the last windstorm. You’ve never seen a car there, or a light in the window, but occasionally the lawn is whacked down as if by machete, and maybe there’s an irate neighbor who takes his anger out on it occasionally, fearing it brings down his own property values. One day, idle speculation slides into a thirst for fact, and you happen to be in the neighborhood anyway, so you ask at the town office where they keep records of such things. You get a name and the status of ownership, and the bored clerk pushes her glasses back on her nose and slides her “World’s Greatest Nana” mug away from her record books and sniffs at the ain’t-it-awful history of the place. Death in the family, lost in probate, squabbling children. She goes on, and it breaks your heart. “None of ’em sound like they even want it,” she says, shaking her head. “And it’s not worth spit. I think it’s just about ego, at this point. Can you imagine?” You can’t, or can, and don’t want to, and can’t believe such a thing would ever happen in your own family. You go back to that house and peer in the windows. It’s not a bad little place. It needs a good cleaning and some love, and you’ve been thinking for a while that a change of scene might help you forget. In your soul, you already feel like you’re halfway to ownership. And on your way out, you wonder how the porch railings would look painted sage green, and if there’s enough sun on the south side for a garden.

Two-Minutes-Go Road Trip

cropped-file0001608482449.jpgHi, everyone! While Mr. Mader is out schooling a few fish, the Friday 2-Minutes-Go luau and sewing circle is over here. What’s this thing all about? Maybe these words I lifted from his website will explain:

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON’T IDENTIFY AS ‘WRITERS’ – all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the ‘comments’ section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds … no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send ’em here to read your ‘two’ and encourage them to play.

Here’s one to start us off:

The grass is greener on the other side. Stupid cliché, you think, muscling the hand mower while sweat pours down your face and wet clippings pepper your shins. You have the damn greenest lawn on the whole street, on the whole planet, but you’re still pushing a hand mower and wish you could pay someone else to do it while you watch from your hammock, sucking on a beer. Like that dude next door. He isn’t an old dude, either. He wears saggy old-man shorts, some kind of faded plaid like your aunt Betsy’s summer sheets, but he looks fit enough to push a mower around. Just chooses not to, you guess. And he doesn’t really sit around too much out there anymore, lording it over his half-acre while the lawn maintenance guys pull up with their flatbed and do their thing. In fact, you don’t remember the last time you saw him outside. If you did, you might tell him that the lawn guys screw off a lot. That they laugh and tell jokes and do shoddy work and peel out of there in, like, ten minutes. That if nobody minds, you’ll be glad to go on over and tidy up the spots they miss. You peer over the fence. Yeah. Looks like shit. You don’t hear any noise from inside, so you wheel old reliable through the gate and neaten up the worst of it. And then you treat yourself to that beer. This becomes a regular thing, and you don’t mind. It feels kind of nice, and afterward, the beer tastes better. But then you start to wonder why it’s been so quiet over there. Just when you’ve finished up both lawns and you’re about to muster up the juice to go over there and knock on the door, the old man steps out. He looks even older. The plaid shorts sagging even lower. He gazes in your direction, nods, pulls his wallet from his back pocket. You walk halfway to meet him. His eyes are red, and also sagging, and he extracts a twenty and pushes it toward you. “For your trouble,” he says, his voice creaking. “Thank you.”

You’re already shaking off the money, but the door is open just enough for you to see the clutter, the oxygen tank, smell the disinfectant. “No trouble,” you say.

I’ll be in and out today, but have FUN (because fun is GOOD!) and I’ll be back later. Feel free, everyone, to write and post and read and comment.

Two-Minutes-Go Road Trip

writerWhile JD is wading some mountain stream in search of Moby-Trout, or at least that’s what he told me to say when the FBI come by asking questions about him, he’s entrusted our Friday flash fiction fandango to me. No Black Friday crowds here. Just a place to share some words.

Or, in a passage I stole from his website:

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON’T IDENTIFY AS ‘WRITERS’ – all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the ‘comments’ section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds … no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send ’em here to read your ‘two’ and encourage them to play. 

Here’s one to start us off:

The air cooled a few degrees, and that’s when I knew she’d arrived. So I snuck up the back stairs, and at a safe remove on the balcony, I readied myself to eyeball the intruder. Rumors had been flying about her—her beauty, her feline grace and charm that belied a volcanic temper. But before any polite introductions could be made, before we could circle each other and stake our claims, I had to see for myself. Evaluate the potential trouble.

And she looked like trouble. Green eyes widening, she flattered the hosts while scoping out the room, hunting her next mark. I knew that game. My muscles went on alert, a ripple of tension beneath my skin, tiny hairs standing on end like tiny field agents reporting to command. No. Boundaries must be set. There could be no room for misinterpretation, here. This was my turf. I’d been deftly ingratiating myself to these people for years. I had them just where I needed them, each step of the plan clicking neatly into position, and I could not allow some slick interloper to get between me and what I deserved.

They were calling for me. I set my expression. Welcoming, but cool. Calm, but alert. One that spelled delighted to meet you, my dear, but no need to make yourself comfortable, because I’m sure you won’t be staying long enough to even learn what kind of soaps are in the powder room.

Ready, finally, because I would not be rushed, I sashayed down the stairs. And on the second from the bottom, I froze. She had her nose in my food dish. In. My. Food. Dish. The hairs on my back shot to attention. I did not care a whit how lovely she was. This meant war.

2 Minutes Go Road Trip Redux

Cardinal_2During the night, the Mader signal shone through the fog into the night sky, and our hero put on his cape and sped away to fight for truth, justice, and the right to wear vintage clothing…and hats. Lots of hats. So he gave me the keys and his secret burrito recipe, and 2 Minutes Go is happening here today. Or, in Mr. Mader’s very words, which I stole from his blog:

Hey, writer-type folks. AND PEOPLE WHO JUST WANT TO PLAY BUT DON’T IDENTIFY AS ‘WRITERS’ – all are welcome here! Every Friday, we do a fun free-write. For fun. And Freedom!

Write whatever you want in the ‘comments’ section on this blog post. Play as many times as you like. #breaktheblog! You have two minutes (give or take a few seconds … no pressure!). Have fun. The more people who play, the more fun it is. So, tell a friend. Then send ’em here to read your ‘two’ and encourage them to play.

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What? You miss the uber-cool orange background and the motorcycles at JD’s place? No worries. You can hang with Napoleon. Or just close your eyes and pretend. Vroom. Here’s a bit from me to start us out:

The ocean swallowed her whole. That’s the myth, anyway, the news story of the day, the collective shrug of a young nation with jazz on its mind and better things to do than investigate the disappearance of a pirate ship that had kidnapped a flighty American heiress in Dubai and taken her to a fate one could only imagine. You’ve been studying this lost cause for your dissertation—another lost cause. You’ve been studying her. Newsreels, microfiche, cracked and yellowed pages of magazines, the presses of which had long been dismantled or melted down and made into other things. Yes, the clothing – more like costume – looked frivolous and altogether impractical, unlike your up-and-run ensemble of jeans and T-shirts. And to the casual gazer, the smile would appear as if she didn’t have a care deeper than which bit of fluff to wear for dinner. But the eyes. They were smart. They held secrets. They told stories. You’d dug for them. You were relentless. Then your advisor called you into his office. Suggested a different angle. Suggested you’d been working too hard. Hinted at obsession. Problems at home, perhaps? Biting at the inside of your cheek, you thanked him for his concern, said you’d think about it. And then you had the dream. She was calling to you. Three nights straight, she called for you. Told you where to find her. So real, like you could reach out and touch her rouged cheek, her flapper jewelry that would now be called vintage and go for a mint. You took the plane ticket and left the note, because you could not bear to deliver the news in person and watch another face soften with concern, another pair of eyes attempt to hide their disapproval. Now you mash your toes into the hot sands of the desert by the ocean, waves of heat warping the margins between sand, sea, and sky. A bit of something down the beach sparkles in the sun. You dig. It’s battered, tarnished…but it’s real. A necklace, pearls embedded in a delicate, broken web of silver. Vintage. Hers.

Flash Freeze Fiction

photo_4228_20071127Baby, it’s cold outside. But we’re having fun with freewriting day at JD Mader’s Unemployed Imagination blog. Here are a few pieces I put up today. I hope you’ll come by and check out the great writing folks are throwing down. We’re still open for business, no matter how cold it gets. As always, lightly edited for your protection.

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Flashback Fiction

Typewriter - Once upon a timeThe first one’s free. That’s the ticket. Then you’re hooked like a trout on JD Mader’s line. He’s a catch-and-release kinda guy, so you come back again for the tasty bait. And again. And again. Each two-minute (more or less) flash fiction freewrite you share on his Friday Unemployed Imagination blog feeds your hunger to try another. Maybe next week you’ll come by, test the waters, and settle in to see what swims by. Check out the alchemy a ton of awesome writers created this week on 2 Minutes. Go! Here are a few of my entries, lightly edited for your ingestion.

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1. 

The cigar smoke stings your eyes and makes you want to puke, so you lie and tell your grandfather that you need to go to the bathroom. Of course he does not protest or go with you, and with his steel-sharp focus trained on the field of horses, he waves you off with a wrinkled hand. You remember your polite-young-lady lessons, smooth your dress, and excuse yourself into the aisle, counting the rows so you can find your way back through the women with hats and mothball-reeking men in plaid shirts, puffing away and yelling to each other in Yiddish. You pick out a few words, and they are not nice ones. As you’re looking for the little drawing of the stick figure in a skirt, a froggish-looking man with a piece of paper clamped in one hand cocks his head and gives you a smirk. “Hey, little girl,” he says. “What’s your favorite horsie?” You blink at him. The horses are pretty, and you liked the sound of their names, like music, as the announcer called them off. You remember Bluebird, because you once saw a bluebird on your window, and it reminded you of Disney movies and happiness. Because that’s what people say about bluebirds, and you want to be happy and not have to smell cigar smoke and mothballs anymore. You tell him. His smile crooks at one corner, and he scribbles something on his sheet of paper and hands you a piece of hard candy wrapped in cellophane. Polite-young-lady lessons demand a thank-you, and you do not disappoint him. But the candy wrapper is slick with sweat and also stinks of cigar. In the bathroom you flush it down the toilet, watching it swirl and wishing you could also disappear that easily.

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2. 

Bad enough that the wind, roaring for three days straight, fuzzled up her thinking. But now she had to make the list. She dreaded it, put it off until the last minute, until the supermarket crowds were so thick and intimidating she contemplated calling the whole thing done and ordering takeout for Thanksgiving. Yet onward she trudged, feeling the weight of guilt from generations of women before her, from her late husband’s family, from miscellaneous siblings, cousins, great aunts and such who depended on coming to her house for dinner. She hadn’t yet found the strength to tell them no more, that someone else would have to take the mantle next year. She sighed, made more coffee, and sat down to scratch through the items she would need. Butter, because there was never enough. Canned cranberries, for that one cousin’s boyfriend who refused to eat sauce he couldn’t slice. Brussels sprouts. She stared at the two words, feeling her eyes burn and a catch in her throat. He was the only one who ate them, yet she couldn’t bear not making them or even writing them on the list. With a long, deep sigh, she called the task complete and grabbed her purse and coat.

Halfway to her car, the wind kicked up harder, and before she realized it, the list slipped from her fingers and skated off on the breeze. No, she thought, starting after it. “No!” As if her voice alone could stop nature. But up it floated, lodging between the branches of a tree. And she stared, feeling helpless, feeling the bite of the cold air against the open collar of her coat. She would never remember everything. She’d forget the flour, the butter, the canned cranberry sauce…the Brussels sprouts.

“Can I help with something?” a man’s voice said. A small yip confirmed that this was the man who’d moved in down the block a few months ago and often passed by her house with his handsome spaniel, the two carrying on a private conversation.

She gestured with a gloved hand as if that could explain it all, from the effort it had taken to write everything out to the phone calls coordinating who was bringing what to the emptiness of the house she’d shared with one man for seventeen years.

“Brussels sprouts,” she said on a sigh, unable to tear her gaze from the bare branches that held fast to her slip of pink notepaper.

“Oh, you’re out?” he said. “You should come by our house. My sister makes enough of those for an army. I’m sure she could spare a few dozen.”

She turned then, and smiled at him. “I might just do that.” She thought of the throng of people who would be ringing her doorbell in a few days. And realized that no, definitely no, she did not want them there. She’d have to suck down some pride, but that would be better than putting up with the memories.

“Hey,” he said, as the spaniel brushed against her leg. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head at the same time she attempted to force a smile, and his eyes were so kind. “Apparently not.”

He seemed to take her in for a long moment before he said, “Tell you what? Grab hold of Daisy’s leash for a sec, and I’ll see about getting that thing out of those branches.”

“Thanks, but no. The tree can keep it.”

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3.

Even from across the field she can see that the dog is happier now, with land to roam and children to herd. There’s a jaunt to his step, joy radiating from ear to tail, and she smiles, but she can still feel the ache in the pit of her stomach for the reason she had to let him go. She couldn’t give him the life he deserved, and she was too selfish and broken to realize that at the time. To think she expected him to save her from loneliness and a man who did not love her. That’s simply too much pressure to heap on an Australian shepherd, even a hardy one. The woman who owns the farm whistles and calls him by his new name, one that suits him better, and he comes running. He pulls up short in front of her. Sniffing at the legs of her jeans, her battered sneakers. He looks up. A sweet whimper escapes his throat, eyes so big and brown as he presses his body against her calf. Like he remembers her. Like he remembers that it was not her fault and feels badly that despite the chunk he attempted to take out of the man’s leg, he was not enough to run him off. “Can I visit for a while?” she asks the woman as she kneels to scratch behind his left ear. And the woman pats his head and tells her to take all the time she wants.