Xs and Os

I haven’t shared my flash fiction in awhile, because I haven’t been writing it as much. Between promoting The Devil Within, editing Little Birdhouses, and writing my no-name work-in-progress I haven’t had time. But this week, I decided to write for Mid-week Blues-Buster.

The song this week is Little Blue One by Cowboy Mouth, which is an upbeat song about a sad subjectWhen I heard this song, after not having listened to Cowboy Mouth for years it took me back to a crowded concert venue in Atlanta in the late 90’s or early 00’s, where I’d gone to visit my childhood friend, Stacy, at college. I hadn’t heard them before I attended the concert with Stacy and Andrea and a few other friends, and I immediately liked their music.

Fair warning: the subject matter is about divorce or the end of a relationship.

Here’s the song if you’d like to have a listen:

So here’s the Dear Jane letter…


Xs and Os
554 words
@laurenegreene

Dear Jane,

The dream again. Your face. But when I wake up you’re not beside me in the ocean swell of what-used-to-be our king sized bed. The room wreaks of your ghost. I pretend not to think of you. I tell my repetitive thoughts to still the image of you in my mind as I pour two cups of coffee instead of one for the third time this week. Without thought, I pour the second one down the drain. I think about picking up the extra cup and smashing it against the wall, but instead I set it in the sink and think about how you would have told me to “just put it in the dishwasher.”

The photos of you and me in the Caymans eating turtle soup. The smile on your face is eternal. You don’t live here anymore with me, but every waking moment I have to tell myself you’re gone. Today, I’ll take the photos down. It’s been six months, and I know you’re not coming back. I’ll put them in boxes, and I’ll wrap them up, and it will be like our life together never existed. That’s what you wanted.

When your text pinged my cell at 2 AM, I had to stumble from the couch where I’d fallen asleep watching Geraldo. I knocked the half empty bottle of wine onto the rug. You remember that rug, don’t you? We spent four hours debating on whether to get blue wool or the checkered cotton at Pottery Barn. I, like the sales clerk, wanted to gouge out my eyes with knives before you’d make up your mind. Back and forth. Wishy washy. That was always your way. Maniacal laughter erupted from my lips when I thought how ironic it was that this rug, your baby, your precious, had been left in my incapable hands. It’s in the green trashcan waiting for pickup on the curb now. So long sucker.

The laughter turned to tears when I read your text. “I want an annulment.” The words stung. Married for six years and just like that you wanted to pretend we didn’t exist. Well maybe you didn’t exist, but I did. I waited for you, lost in your blue world of depression as you were. I stuck with you when no one did. I made sure they pumped your stomach. I made sure you didn’t die on the pink title floor of our bathroom by sticking my finger down your throat. Covered in your puke and half-digested pills, I helped get you to the hospital. I saved your life…literally. And I helped you find your way. Even if that way was away from me.

So, my little blue one, now that you’ve found your way you want to pretend that none of it ever happened? Move on, put me behind you and that period of your life when you couldn’t control yourself. You couldn’t control your emotions.

The answer is no. I’ll grant you a divorce, but not an annulment. Because not every day was filled with vomit and fights over rugs. I walked on the beach with you. I kissed you under a gazebo. I imagined our life together, complete with babies, and I thought I’d be with you forever. I can’t pretend that never existed.

Xs and Os, the answer is no.

–John


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Cold Heart, Cold Mind

I wrote for Finish That Thought today.  I’ve been taking too many breaks lately, letting the urge to write slip away form me. This week, I’m trying to get back on the wagon (so to speak).  I have editing of my next book to do, and I keep putting it off.  I’m going to try to set some goals over the weekend, and I’ll post them here next week.  I’m goal oriented, and when I track I do so much better.  Plus, blogging! I haven’t been doing it after the A to Z Challenge nearly as much as I want to. I’m hoping with summer quickly descending on us and the absence of afternoon activities for the kids that I’ll be more productive.  We shall see!

Cold Heart, Cold Mind
@laurenegreene
495 words

I had not felt this way for a long time, but then again it had been a while since I’d been back. Dad had cut the topiaries into animal shapes, and covered with snow, they reminded me of the scene from “The Shining,” so I kept a safe distance, hugging the side of the hedge as I walked to the door. My heart pounded in my chest like a million drummers in a band. The snow fell around me, and I shivered as I stood there trying to build up my nerve. I felt like a little kid again, lost and alone, not to mention freezing—Florida was so nice this time of year, I wish I’d never left.

If I stood there one more second, I might turn into an icicle, or worse yet I might freeze in one position snow-covered like the topiaries dotting Dad’s yard. I knew he needed me. My comfort. My presence, but the truth was I didn’t care about him anymore. Ever since he’d left Mom, I’d told myself he didn’t matter.

But then Janie had called six months ago and said Grace had died. Dad had dementia. She would arrange a nurse. Even nurses needed vacations, and Janie was out of pocket this week, in Disney World with her husband and three kids. I guess she deserved a vacation too.

I rubbed my hands together, they seemed frozen solid, and I wasn’t sure if the fist would form so I could knock on the door. The topiaries were so well trimmed. Was that part of Hanna’s job description or had Dad kept up with them, even in his confusion? Finally, I knocked.

Hanna came to the door, wearing a white nurse’s cap, like someone out of an old-timey movie. From behind, Dad wrapped his arms around her and squeezed.

“She’s a hottie, isn’t she?” Dad asked, as Hanna pushed his arm from her waist.

“Bill, I’ve told you a thousand times, I’m your nurse not your wife.”

“Where’d Grace get off to?”

I stood in the doorway, my eyelashes nearly frozen. Winter in Michigan was hell.

“You must be Christina. Thank God you’re here.”

Dad scooted around Hanna and screwed up his eyeballs as his mind whirled like a hamster on a wheel, trying to locate me in a sea of frothy memories.

“Tell my friends to come in too, Grace. They’re covered in snow,” he said, waving to the topiaries.

“They’re better off outside, Dad,” I said as Hanna scooted out of the way, and I stepped into the warmth of the house.

“Dad?” he asked.

“It’s Christina, your youngest daughter,” I said.

“I don’t have any children. Just ask Grace,” Dad said.

“She’s dead, Dad,” I said.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you Christina. I’m leaving in ten minutes. Let me show you where your dad’s meds are,” Hanna said.

Dad stared at the topiaries. The only friends he had, left out in the cold.

Indecision

Hello my lovely readers! I took a small break after the A-Z Challenge. Okay, I took off a whole week! I worked on my work-in-progress, which is slow going, but it’s finally going. And I finished up the editing for “The Devil Within,” then sent it off for proofread. Yay!  I also went to have my head shots done by my friend Amanda.  “The Devil Within” is coming together and will be out in a little bit more than a month.

Today, I wrote for Micro Bookends. And it’s funny, yesterday on a field trip with my son I was talking to one of the parents about my study abroad in Argentina (Buenos Aires to be exact). So this Micro Bookends was appropriate. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since I went to Argentina! What a wonderful trip that was. I met some influential people, learned a language, and I really fell in love with Buenos Aires.  I still think about my friend’s host parent’s doberman named Otto.  I’m sure he’s long gone by now, but that dog was something else!

Here’s Micro Bookends today. The challenge was to use the words “First” and “Lady,” and the photo prompt was of a building in Buenos Aires with Eva Peron’s face painted on the facade.

Indecision
@laurenegreene
109 words

“First, we’re going to visit the Pink House.”

Chewing gum, sitting on the street corner, Dad plotted the trip as I looked up at the portrait of Evita painted on a building. Henry sat down next to me.

“No, maybe we’ll go to Recoleta first.”

“Evita Peron,” Henry said.

“I know that,” I said.

“Don’t cry for me Argentina, the truth is we’ll never see you. Because Dad’s indecisive. And a staller. We’ll be sitting on this corner, for the rest of our lives,” Henry said.

Dad put away the tour book and said, “Hey guys, don’t just sit there. Look at that. Eva Peron. She was some lady!”

Z is for Zoe

All good things must come to an end. Today is the last day of the A to Z Challenge. Crazy! This month flew by. Today I wrote about a little girl Zoe for a flash fiction challenge over on Micro Bookends. Enjoy. I have a pounding headache this morning, so I’m off to catch a few more Zs and see if I can sleep it away.

Runaway
@laurenegreene
107 words

Wild feelings flitted through Zoe’s mind as she walked through the ancient and abandoned sewer system. She stopped and stared up through one of the openings, the glare from the sun blinding her for just a minute. When she looked down black spots speckled her vision, and she thought she might faint.

She’d show them. She’d never come back. She’d live in the woods for the rest of her life. She knew how to survive. A ladder at the end of the tunnel reached almost up to the sky. She would climb out from the darkness of the underground transformed into an adult, no longer a child.

Yvette

I can’t believe the A to Z Challenge is coming to an end tomorrow. I’ve loved doing it. I thought about writing, “It’s not over YET,” as my “Y” post, but I had some flash to do, so instead I just named one of the characters Yvette.  I think I’ll do a reflection post on Friday about the A to Z Challenge. I’ve enjoyed the experience so much.

Without further ado, here’s the piece I wrote for Mid-week Blues-Buster. The song, to me seemed to be about internal demons, but it spun a great little thriller piece in my head. This is one I may develop further at another time.

Peace at Last
@laurenegreene
639 words

 

The rain rushed in as Yvette tried to kick in the door with her heel.

“Let me do it,” Steve said, pushing her out of the way.

We thought the house was empty. It’s true what they say—when you’re wrapped up with the wrong group of friends, you never realize it until it’s too late. That night, as the lightening crashed down around us, and the moss on the oak trees swayed like ghosts dancing in the rain, fate started shaking its ugly fist.

Steve and I both had pistols. Yvette and Coco raided the kitchen. I didn’t know why in the hell they always went there first. I followed Steve toward the bedroom. The house was dark, but looked lived in. A magazine was tossed on a coffee stained table in the living room, a stuffed bunny abandoned on a multi-colored rug. We rounded the corner, and looked up stairs that led to a loft, but continued past to the master bedroom. If the girls had told us food was simmering on the stove, we would have walked out the door, but that’s not what happened.

They were in bed, and the commotion had awakened them. A terrified look on their faces like a deer right before he’s hit by a car.

“I thought you said no one was home,” I said.

“Shut up,” Steve said.

The half-naked man and woman in the bed shook, huddled together with fear. Steve had his gun out now, and so I took my gun out too.

The half strangled word came out of their mouths, “No,” before it was cut off by the sound of the bullet crashing into the man’s skull and the woman’s scream, which I quickly silenced with a bullet of my own. My heart raced in my chest like thunder rolling down a mountain, and I couldn’t believe what I’d done in that split second. Now, I wasn’t just a thief, I was a killer.

“Oh my God, we have to get out of here.”

Steve laughed. That nervous type of laugh, you know the one a kid has after he’s done something he’s not supposed to.

“We killed them, Ollie.”

My face blanched, but I refuse to look back at the bed where Steve was staring.

“I’m going.”

“We came here to rob the joint and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The girls were sitting sullenly in the living room.

“What happened?” Yvette asked.

I was too stunned to answer. A few minutes later Steve came out with a bag full of Lord knows what. I didn’t want any of it—I just wanted to rewind time. My head was spinning with the knowledge of what we’d done.

And then we heard it.

“Mommy.”

We all looked up. A little girl, no more than four stood up at the top of the loft stairs looking down at us. Steve pulled out his gun, but I grabbed his arm.  It happened so quickly, when he pulled the trigger, the bullet traveled into my skin and through my side.

“It’s just a flesh wound,” Coco said.

“I can’t believe you were going to kill that kid,” Yvette said.

“Let’s get out of here,” Steve said.

I stood, blood dripping everywhere, and I looked up the stairs to see the little girl’s wide blue eyes looking down at me, like an angel from above beckoning me to join her. Coco, Steve, and Yvette were gone by the time I stumbled over the side of the couch. I tried to stand, to get my footing, but I slipped on something wet. When I hit the floor, the blood pooled around me like embryonic fluid. When I closed my eyes for the last time, I felt the little girl’s hand on my face, soft and warm. Peace at last.

Salvation

Today I wrote for Mid-Week Blues-Buster. I skipped this one last week, because I just had so much going on. But I love Johnny Cash, and I couldn’t pass up a chance to let his music inspire me.  Today’s MWBB was inspired by the song, “Ain’t No Grave,” by Johnny Cash.

Salvation
@laurenegreene
618 words
The worms of cancer had spread through Dad’s body, wriggling their way through his intestines and then up to his brain before he even knew they existed. Simon said Mom fainted when the doctor gave him three weeks.

“Hell, three weeks and I’ll be up dancing a jig,” Dad said.

But, of course, he wasn’t. Hospice came with a hospital bed, and they set it up in the guest room. And a week later I took leave from work, and traveled the five hours to the town that held remnants of my childhood. I fell into my twin bed at midnight and turned out the lamp still adorned with a pink shade.  I dreamt about the bullies who used to live next door. I woke up with tears in my eyes, after dreaming about how Dad used to take Simon and me to get ice cream every Sunday after church.

As the colors of dawn were spreading through the sky, I tiptoed to my father’s room like a child just woken from a nightmare. Simon was sitting on the edge of Dad’s bed, and he turned and looked at me with a grimace on his face.

“The nurse had to go to the bathroom.”

“What’s the song?”

“Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash. Dad’s playing it on repeat. I guess he wants to be a zombie or something.”

I laughed at my little brother, and came up to sit next to him on my Dad’s bed. I glanced over at Dad’s sallow cheeks, and listened to his raspy breathing, noticing how his chest was still rising and falling like the waves of the ocean just outside our front door. He was asleep and soon he’d be asleep forever.

“The song’s about salvation. Dad wants Jesus to meet him in heaven.”

“The song’s about someone wanting to live forever. Big headed and all that,” Simon said.

Tears sprang to his eyes, and I wrapped my arms around him. We sat huddled together on the side of the bed as Dad’s breathing rattled on, listening to make sure it didn’t stop. The nurse came back in, and she nodded at us then parked herself in the corner chair with her knitting needles.

“How’s Mom taking it?”

“Best she can. She thought there would be more time.”

“Don’t we always?”

“The nurse,” Simon said, nodding toward the woman in the corner, “said it would be soon. He’s not doing well.”

“So no jig dancing for him?”

Simon laughed and we hugged each other harder. Silence descended on the room, as we sat there listening to the clock tick through the early morning. The birds came out and began singing their songs of spring. Dad opened his eyes.

“My little girl.”

I scooted toward him. He wrapped his bone thin arms around me, and I let him hold me. I stopped crying and pulled away.

“Remember that time you took Simon and I down to Cheaha to spend the night. Mom refused to come. It rained all weekend, and we were miserable, but you were intent on staying. You wanted to show her all the fun memories we were making?”

We talked all morning about memories from our youth. “Ain’t No Grave” played in the background of our words. Dad asked Mom to read John 3:16 from the Bible.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

“That’s what the song means,” Dad said to Simon and me. “No need to fight about it.”

Then he turned his face away from us, looked at the white wall, and the rise and fall of his chest ceased.

 

Ricky Head

I wrote today for Finish That Thought. I had a little trouble with this prompt, but in the end this is what I came up with.

Truckin’
@laurenegreene
498 words

 

When we hit the state line I cheered. Ricky glared at me, out of the corner of his eyes. We hadn’t spoken since Texas.

“Are you sure you want to go on this trip with him?” Mom had asked. “Who names their kid Richard when their last name is Head? Is there any truth to it?”

“Mom, we’re in love.”

Famous last words. First, we’d had a flat tire. When I complained about standing in the hot sun, Ricky had called me a sour grape. I mean, who compares a person to a rotten fruit? I was ticked at him, but we were following the Dead around the country—what could be better than that? Plus, Ricky had great eyes. The kind of eyes that make you pull out the dictionary and look up unique ways to describe the word “blue.”

Now the only way I could describe Ricky’s eyes were as cold and uncaring. I didn’t care if I ever saw him again.  I folded my arms over my chest, tapping my feet against the dashboard as I counted down the minutes until I arrived safely back at my parents’ house.

Ricky pushed a cassette into the player, and “Truckin’” blared from the speakers. I thought about the blown out tire on the first day. The sunburn on my face so bad that people at the first concert asked me if I was a leper. One state after another, and there were some good sets. Even selling grilled cheese sandwiches in the parking lot wasn’t bad. Ricky and I had a good laugh over some people who thought we were Smurfs—high on Lord knows what.

It was the last week, when Ricky had picked up the hitchhiker after I had told not to. And we drove fifty miles in the wrong direction before the guy pulled a knife on us and told us to empty our pockets. We had. We’d rather have our skins than the money in our pockets. In some po-dunk Texas town, my Mom had to Western Union money to us, and I told Ricky I never wanted to see him again. In hindsight, I should have waited to speak those words when I arrived home.

I decided Ricky Head might have been right about me on the first day of the trip. Maybe I was sour grapes. And maybe he really did live up to his name.  All I cared about was getting home into my Momma’s arms.

“I gotta take a leak,” Ricky said, pulling into the rest area. “You gotta go?”

I shook my head without looking at him, and picked at my fingernails. I followed his back with my eyes, and when he was in the rest area, I hopped into the driver’s seat.

He’d left the keys in the ignition. I threw the car into reverse as fast as I could.  From the rearview, Ricky’s arm flailed trying to get someone to stop me. So long Dick Head!

Oliver

I was going to post a longer piece I wrote, “Oberon.” It’s about 1,000 words, but I really need to work on it some more. I originally wrote it for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds Flash challenge, but I decided not to post it, because it needed more than 1,000 words.

Instead, I wrote a story about Oliver today for Flash!Friday. The setting had to be in a kitchen. And here is the photo prompt of a Prison Guard from the public domain.

Prison Guard

Tuber Tears
@laurenegreene
209 words

“Oliver, chop up the onions,” Momma said.

She stood near the stove, stirring the soup. Poppa was on duty again, and had been for the last two days. Momma worried about him. The phone was secured to her ear, the cord cutting a trail through the kitchen.

“Oy, weapons made out of pencils. That’s what killed Solomon, I heard. Ian’s job is going to give me a heart attack. I swear, I’ll kill him if gets hurt and leaves me to fend for these eight kids on my own.”

Tears streamed down Oliver’s face. He wiped his eyes with the sleeves of his shirt. His sister toddled in, and Oliver pushed her out of the galley kitchen that seemed crowded with him, Momma, and the voice of Aunt Tessa coming through the phone.

“Is this enough?” Oliver asked, his eyes red-rimmed.

“Why you interrupt me? No—we have to take some up to the prison too, Oliver. Keep cutting and keep your snot out of the food. Tessa—yes, sorry. Why God didn’t grace me with a girl before number six is beyond me.”

The tears burned his eyes now. He thought of Poppa with a pencil stuck in his neck as he scraped the onions into the soup.

Make Me Proud

Yesterday, I wrote for Flash Dash. This is a new challenge on the Flash!Friday page, in which you have only thirty minutes to write a flash piece up to 30 minutes long. The first sentence was supplied. As I looked at the sentence, the father/son dynamic came to mind. It could have easily have been a father/daughter dynamic. As a kid, I felt like I was constantly striving to make my dad proud. I also felt like he was critical, and it hurt.  Now, I know that’s just his personality and he is proud of me. I explored that theme a little bit in my story yesterday.


Make Me Proud
@laurenegreene
395 words

Winning was all that mattered. But, unfortunately, I was a born loser. I couldn’t even hit the ball off the tee when I started tee-ball. My father shouted from the stands, blaming everyone but his loser son.  And the losing streak continued. My father, a wolf of the banking world, could not stomach my losses.

At my basketball games in middle school, shoulders slumped over my chest, keeping the bench warm, I cringed as my father shouted at Ryan Peterson, the star.

“Come on Ryan! You got this. Four more points, and they’re beat.”

Then, I think he started coming to my games only to see Ryan.  Silent meals, as I speared cauliflower and my Dad recanted Ryan’s winning moments. I sank further and further into myself. My mother’s sidelong glances couldn’t even save me from the fact that my father was overlooking me.

I joined drama on a whim. Everyone has to be good at something, right? Turns out I’m good at stabbing Mercutio and rinsing imaginary blood from my hands.

Back at the dinner table, I recited my monologues to the tone-deaf ears of my father. He rambled on about how the basketball team missed me.

“Missed my what, Dad? My prowess of securing the bench to the ground?”

“You should have seen it. I thought for sure we were going to lose, but then a foul was called, Ryan got the free throws, and as the ball was being bounced up the court, Teddy Andrews—do you know him?—stole the ball and threw the winning shot. It was something else.”

The peas felt squalid and heavy in my mouth. I ate them, because if I didn’t I wouldn’t get any blueberry cobbler. And my mom makes the best blueberry cobbler.

“My play’s on Tuesday night,” I told my mom the next day.

“You should tell your father.”

“Why? He won’t come.”

Friday night, costumes littered the stage. Everyone rushed around, practicing their lines one more time. When the curtain rose, the lights glared in my eyes. I couldn’t see if my father was there.

I recited my lines, stabbed Mercutio.

“THAT’S MY BOY!!!  THAT’S MY BOY!!! Look at that. Did you see the flick of that knife?”

Peals of laughter rang out around us, but the show must go on.  At least I knew he finally thought I was a winner.

Laurel

I’ve always been partial to the letter L. My dad’s name starts with “L,” my name, and my son’s. When you’re in pre-k and learning your letters, you get so excited when you see the letter that belongs to you. “L is for Lauren! That’s me!” I’ve seen this over and over again with my kids. The recognition of yourself in something abstract.

Today, I wrote for Finish That Thought about loss. Loss of something you once had is hard to cope with.  We’ve all been there, whether it’s losing a loved one, breaking up with a boyfriend, or something more (as is the case with my protagonist). I feel like I’ve been lucky in my life, but still I’ve experienced a lot of loss.  It’s part of life, learning how to cope with grief, and move on to find what else life has to offer you.

Enjoy the read!


Passing Storm
@laurenegreene
446 words

“It is not uncommon to get melancholy when it rains,” the therapist said, drumming his pencil against his pad.

Yellow, legal pad, Laurel thought to herself. She could almost taste yellow, like a burst of sunshine in her mouth.

“I get so blue. You know, when I walk outside, and I can smell the ozone—that’s what it’s called, right? I can feel the drops on my skin, the tiny hair follicles rising to greet the rain.”

“It’s called SAD,” the therapist said.

“And I used to read. Now I listen to the characters in my favorite books. I hear their voices trickling from my boom box—I still have one of those—but the problem is, they don’t sound like how I’d imagine them.”

The therapist cleared his throat. She heard the tinkle of ice cubes against his glass, and she imagined him picking up the glass, pressing it to his dry lips, and taking a sip. She imagined the glare of the newborn sun, born of the rain, and scattering rainbow spots over his white walls: green, orange, indigo, violet, and red. She was forgetting a few, but couldn’t figure out which ones.

“Are you ready to talk about the accident, yet?”

She heard the thunder, and she knew she was premature in her thoughts of the storm’s end. She settled into the couch, rubbing her fingers along the edge of the leather fabric: smooth and soft.  She always thought about the accident, but had yet to speak about it. Every day, she woke up in a black world and opened her eyes to a sightless world. In her dreams, she could see. Colors were vivid, dripping their peaceful hues, like a childhood book she had once read.

“I know it’s stupid and part of denial, but one day I think I’m going to wake up and be able to see.”

“It’s very common to have these thoughts, even when you know they’re unrealistic.”

“The sun will come out, and I’ll feel it on my skin. I’ll look up into the sky, and I’ll be able to see birds flying. I’ll see all the colors of the rainbow instead of just imagining them. The blue of the sky. The world is full of colors that I can’t see anymore.”

“Talking about it helps, Laurel.”

“Will talking about it help me get my vision back? I don’t think so. I escaped, that’s all that matters. It was just a passing storm,” Laurel said, running her fingers over the couch until she found her purse.

She stood up to leave the room.

“See you next week?” the therapist asked.

“Not likely,” she said, with a laugh.