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.

The Ride

hitchhiker-691581_1280Hi, everyone! I’m sharing one of the pieces I wrote for this week’s 2MinutesGo flash fiction luau and quilting bee on JD Mader’s blog, Unemployed Imagination. Maybe you’d like to drop by and see what we get up to. It’s fun, and free, and there’s some great writing.

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The Ride

“Been out there long?”

It was the first thing he’d said to her since the car pulled away from the shoulder. She stared at his unshaven profile, the pointed chin, the glasses sliding down his nose. Was he dim or just trying to make conversation? Of course she’d been out there long. She was soaked clean through and her backpack was a dripping mess in the trunk of his ancient Gran Torino. Then she sighed. As if the damp, overheated closeness inside the car needed any more twice-breathed air. He didn’t have to stop. He could have just left her there in the pouring rain and made an anonymous phone call from the road.

“A while.” She drummed her fingers atop her wet jeans.

He nodded, keeping his eyes on the slick road ahead. His skinny arms, tense from gripping the wheel, reassured her. If he were a big hulking guy, she might not have gotten in. Her mother’s warnings about taking rides from strangers had only partially penetrated her brain. She was certainly old enough to discern whether a driver represented a threat, and although the weather might have flavored her judgment, he seemed kindly. Like an uncle. Like the kind of guy who might have teenage daughters at home that he would want picked up by a law-abiding, decent man if they’d been stuck out in the rain.

“Where are you headed?” he said finally.

She shrugged. “As far as you’re going would be fine.”

His laugh came out like a tiny squeak. “Well, you might not want to be going that far. I’m aiming for Canada.”

“Funny,” she said. “That’s exactly where I’m going.” She liked the sound of Canada. Of starting over somewhere no one knew her, where no one looked at her sideways because of what her father had done.

He didn’t answer. Cold rainwater dripped down her back and she shivered. What if he started asking questions? Like how old she was, and why she was leaving the country, and if there was someone he ought to be calling? But he said nothing. The tires sluiced through the flooded roads; passing eighteen-wheelers drenched them and he flipped the wipers on high.

As they approached the next exit, he cleared his throat. “Okay, then,” he said, as if making some decision on the spot. “But I need to, um, pull off here and take care of an errand, first. Maybe you can help.”

Considering that he was driving her a couple hundred miles, hadn’t asked her any questions, and there wasn’t that much money in her mother’s purse, she’d be willing to give him a hand. Within reason.

“What will I be doing?”

He smiled at the tollbooth collector and handed over a few singles. As he rolled through an intersection and took a left into the parking lot of a small strip mall, he said, “There’s a gun in the glove compartment.” He brought the sleek, giant car to a stop but left the engine on. “If anyone comes after us, start shooting.”

(New: audio version on SoundCloud!)

Water

puddleShe wondered where the water was coming from. It hadn’t rained in weeks, the town had banned the burning of yard waste and drought warnings threatened, yet a trickle of runoff burbled its way down the culvert ditch that cut beneath the base of her driveway. Her mouth tightened, and she stuffed the day’s mail back into her box and decided to head upstream. The water gurgled, cutting over the remains of winter grit and the thin grasses brave enough to sprout in the dip alongside the road. She passed house after house—no activity, no lawn-watering, no car-washing, nothing to indicate an unnatural stress upon their aquifer. But as she climbed the hill, beyond the empty Cape Cods and redbrick boxes and by-the-numbers McMansions, the trickle became a stream and the rush of the water grew louder.

The only house left before the dead-end was the Patterson’s colonial, and as far as she knew, Dr. P was on sabbatical and had taken the family to some country she couldn’t pronounce on an archaeological expedition. That was definitely water she heard, though, as she approached the property. And a bottle-green VW Bug she’d never seen before sat in the driveway. A housesitter? What the hell? Mrs. P didn’t believe in them, wouldn’t trust a soul with her precious Hummels and Danish modern furniture and Baccarat crystal. She didn’t even let anyone take in her mail.

“Hello?” she called out, thumping on the front door, but the rush of water was coming from beyond the house. She followed, inching through the not-as-tidy-as-usual grass. And then she saw it. The giant, inflatable pool. The garden hose, which apparently had been employed to fill it, had slipped out and was now turning the side yard into a swamp.

She huffed and stabbed her fists into her hips when she saw the apparent owner of the Bug, apparently asleep on a floaty chair in the middle of the outsized kiddie pool, wearing only boxers and a contented smile. The waste infuriated her, plus the fact he was the kind of man who was so model-gorgeous that he probably felt the world owed him, him and that designed-to-be-devilish curl that fell into his eyes. Her sneakers slipped and sucked mud and soggy turf as she dashed to the side of the house to turn off the faucet, but then had another idea. She grabbed the hose and aimed it straight at the man’s six-pack. He only managed a wide-eyed gasp before capsizing his SS Minnow and came up sputtering while she twisted the nozzle tip closed.

“What the hell, lady?” Now standing in belt-high water, he shook his loose brown curls like a dog.

“Drought,” she snapped. “Climate change. Waste. Do those terms mean anything to you?”

“They should. I’ve been working the last three days putting out that wildfire up on the ridge.”

“You’re…”

“Yep. Firefighter. They called us up from Connecticut to help. My uncle said I could crash here between shifts. Was filling up the pool, guess I fell asleep.” He yawned, then gave her a slow once-over. “Hey. You look like you could use a dip, douse some of them flames shooting out your eyes.”

She readied the nozzle at him. He held up his hands. “Kidding. Jeez. I’m sorry. I should have been more careful.”

“How’s the fire?” she asked, dropping the fist clutching the nozzle to her side.

“Mostly out.”

“Thank you.”

His smile picked up speed but flagged when she narrowed her eyes at him. “Hey. Didn’t mean any harm. I’m just saying, hot day, pool full of water, and Uncle P has the makings for a pitcher of kick-ass margaritas. It’s not every day I meet such a cute environmentalist.”

She aimed the nozzle at him; he cringed and covered his face. When she didn’t shoot, he lowered his hands.

“Is it cold?” she asked.

“Your reception? A bit frosty, yeah. Maybe you want to work on that.”

“I meant the water.”

When he grinned, a little more humbly than before, she tightened the faucet and kicked off her shoes.

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This story was inspired during JD Mader’s 2 Minutes. Go! writing fiesta flash-a-thon, held every Friday on his blog. Here’s what we wrote this week. Maybe next week you’ll come by and do some writing.

Flash Fiction of Inspiration

appletreeWe’re at it again! This week’s Friday flash fiction fun at JD Mader’s Unemployed Imagination 2-minutes-go blog. Write for two (more or less) and post it for the world to see. Maybe you’ll join us next time. I swear, magic happens when we all write together. Here are mine. Lightly edited to be a little easier on the eyes. With a dash of cinnamon, cook until done.

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His blue-jeaned legs swung from the crook of the tree branch, beating a tattoo against the trunk, and she could almost hear him calling her a pussy in his head as he smiled half-assed at her, gesturing with his nibbled apple how easy the climb had been. She didn’t care about girly things like manicures—piano lessons forever had cured that—so she dug in her stubby fingers and began the ascent. The sickly-sweet aroma swirled around her, of the apples that hadn’t made it to picking, the whir and whine of the bees in their confusion of something to pollinate, and straining her muscles, she pulled herself up, leaves catching in her hair, the scruff of the bark scraping her skin even through her denim shirt and pants. His grin widened as she joined him. The sun, dappled through the leaves, glinted off his aviator lenses. Sanctuary. At last.

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The future waits but he does not know that yet. Life has been a series of steps he’s told to take, places he’s told to wait, tasks he’s commanded to complete. Choices? That’s not been part of the plan. Choices have been about small things: ketchup or mayonnaise on the french fries; go swimming or ride bikes. These new choices feel too large and terrifying, like he’ll pick the wrong one and be stuck on a bad path forever. End up like his mother. Worse, like his father. Drifting around, busking for change and smiles. Not knowing when he’ll come home. As the bus bound for the unknown pulls into the bay and opens its doors, his mother licks a finger and pushes a cowlick down and he cringes backward. “Mom.” His mouth forms a sneer. “Stop it.” And to his surprise, she does.

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From nowhere, it seemed, the neighborhood stray tortie joined me on my walk. Dusk. Playing with me or trying to herd me or whatever feline trick she employed to bond me to her, she slipped serpentine in front of my legs, her mottled fur blending in with the asphalt, with the darkening night. Now just her too-big collar was visible, keeping me from tripping over her. She lifted her head up to mine, gave me a slow blink and bonked her forehead against my knee before letting me continue placing one foot in front of the other. Take me home, she seemed to be saying. We both knew that couldn’t happen. So we walked, her twining her long, skinny body around my calves, twitching tail, for the length of one property, two, before she slipped back into the woods.

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She couldn’t explain why walking in circles helped. The rhythm of it, maybe, one after the other around the top of the driveway, the streams of rain trickling under the hood of her slicker and down her neck. It was something she could feel, unlike the stale air inside, unlike the same tired looks he gave her. Feeling that wet and cold sliding along the nape of her neck was like a jolt to her body that woke up the rest of her nerves; the smell of the ozone calmed her and made it easier to face what lay inside. Made it easier to lift her feet up the crumbling concrete stairs and face his puzzlement, his derision, the shattered drinking glass he refused to throw away. He wouldn’t throw anything away. It all had memories, it all meant the person who’d owned it stayed alive, somehow. But she also preferred to walk the circles outside because if she did them inside, she could see the glass, the shards stacked inside the jagged base. Throw them out, she said. Get rid of them. She didn’t want to explain why it was bad to have them around, why she couldn’t stop watching the glint of the fluorescent lights against the fragments. The words were too hard, too fractured, too broken.

Saturday Night Poetry: Falling

SlidingPastVertical300When I’m jittery and the words pile up in my head, sometimes I need a little focus. A little prompt. A little card from the magic box of possibilities. I have such a box, which I bought a long time ago from a woman at a writers conference. Sometimes I pluck a card and it speaks to me. This one spoke to me today. Probably because I’ve been staring at this book cover for the last week or so. Today’s prompt is: “As quickly as you can, make a list beginning with the line I remember falling…

Step off the ledge with me? I can’t promise it will all be good, because I don’t dare call myself a poet, but you might like the way the wind rushes through your hair. Continue reading