I Held Your Heart Once

Here’s a short story (748 words) I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below:

I Held Your Heart Once

“I told you this was a bad idea!” he shouted.

Yeah, as if the entire idea had been mine. We sat in the house on the gray floor, my fingers almost completely numb. I wanted to shove a knife under his ribs. I plastered a faux smile on my face.

“You start the fire then.”

“Fine,” he said, grabbing the stick and the stone from me.

I studied El’s face as the light in the windows began to recede and the bitter wind howled. His cheeks were gaunt. When we’d left they’d been full of meat. Now, we both looked like shadow people; skinnier than we ever should have been. The lines of dirt on his cheekbones would have made him look like a football player if he were bigger. But now they accentuated the emaciated look of his face.

I tried to blow the blue out of my fingers.

El shouted at the stick as if it had ears.

I went to the door.

“What the fuck are you going to do, Mare?”

“Going somewhere else. I mean we’ll freeze to death in here.”

“It’s safe and it’s warm.”

“It’s not warm.”

“It’s warmer than out there.”

I looked out the window. The ferocious snow fell barricading us into this desolate place. We were stuck, and it was my bad idea that had brought us up here. I thought there’d be food, maybe canned goods. But when we opened the door a vacuous wasteland of dust greeted us. The back window had a crack letting in a constant stream of cold air and snow. No wood, except for wet, snow-bound logs sitting on the crumbling front porch. I could feel El’s hostility aimed at me like an arrow.

“I mean who the fuck goes up the mountain. We should have been going down.”

My heart felt like a worn stone in my chest. I stood by the door, not opening it, with my back to him. He struck the rock against the stick. Heat remained aloof. There was friction in the air but not enough to start a fire.

“My hands are numb,” I said. I turned toward him.

He put the rock and stick down and looked at me. I could see his old face hidden in his new one. The old face I’d fallen in love with. His eyes which had looked cold softened and his face crinkled into a smile. His smile warmed me up, and I felt the once familiar spark. The one that had been missing for awhile now, the one that reminded me that I’d held his heart once.

“Come here.”

I stood still.

He stood up and walked toward me, measured steps through the dust of the room. He pulled my shirt off before I could say no. His hands on my breast warmed me up. Body heat, the natural generator. He took off his shirt and grabbed my hands. He warmed them with his, rubbing them together like the stick and the stone. He placed my hands on his chest.

He slid down my pants then pulled down his. I shivered, and he wrapped his arms around me. We were like two unlit pieces of coal trying to catch an elusive spark. I felt him enter me and shivered again. We had not made love in ages.

“I don’t have a condom.”

“It’s okay.” It wasn’t.

Our bodies moved together filling the cabin with warmth. I imagined soft lights. I imagined a rope bed with a soft mattress, blankets covering us. I imagined the smell of chicken cooking in the oven. I imagined our children.

When I blinked, I felt his hip bone against my inner thigh. I’d never felt his hip bone before. The barrenness of the cabin stole my fantasy. He moaned and I squeezed my arms around him trying to find the heat in what should have been passion. I didn’t want the fantasy of what we once had to end. But he pushed hard, climaxed, and rolled off of me. The frigid air pierced my sweat-smothered skin. El sat with his back to me and took up the stone and stick again.

I had been wrong to come here. He’d held my heart once but it has since shattered like an icicle.

A sudden spark rose from the stick. El lit the wood then turned to look at me with fire in his eyes.

The smoke was blue and grey and smelled like a promise.

Snow Mountain

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Home is Where the Pie Is

This week, Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge involved writing about food. He did this as a way to honor Anthony Bourdain. I don’t really know much about Bourdain, but I do know about depression, and I feel like Wendig doing this challenge in his honor can get the word out to more people. If you’re depressed and feel like hurting yourself, please call the Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

So for this week, I wrote about Mila, and food, and the South, and traveling home. And it’s a little longer at 1997 words.

Home Is Where the Pie Is — 1997 words

Mila bit into a juicy piece of fried chicken. She licked her lips, tasting the grease and the salt. The chicken brought her back to humid nights, fireflies in the backyard, and red and white checkered picnic tables.

“Snap out of it.”

“Huh?”

“You were in another world.”

“Literally, I traveled back to my childhood,” Mila said. She set the half-eaten chicken breast down on the avocado cafeteria tray.

She and Clem had been on the road for days. They took the back road winding their way toward their final destination. In Oxford, they stopped at a little café called Bright’s. Mila ordered fried chicken with fried green tomatoes and pineapple cheese casserole with a glass of sweet tea. She ordered this as naturally as if she ate this food every day, and Clem stared at her.

“You ain’t from around here, are you?” the waitress said, stuffing the order pad into the pocket of her apron.

“I grew up down the road a piece,” Mila said.

“Always good to go home,” the waitress said, wandering back toward the kitchen.

Mila had two cups of sweet tea. Clem thought it too sweet and almost spit it out on first sip. He ordered water instead. Mila could feel the indulgence slipping into her bladder and filling it to the brim.

“I’m gonna run to the bathroom.”

“Want me to ask for the check?”

The waitress popped up beside the table, “What about dessert?”

Mila reluctantly sat down and crossed her legs to keep her bladder from exploding.

“What do you have?”

“The usuals: banana puddin’, blackberry cobbler, punkin pie, oh, and we have homemade peach ice cream.”

Homemade peach ice cream. Mila remembered lazy days on the front porch, escaping the 12 o’clock sun and scorching heat of the summer. She remembered her dad’s old brown bucket ice cream machine, the blue box of Morton’s salt, complete with little girl holding an umbrella, and the fresh peaches and cream.

“Can I pour in the salt, Daddy?”

She could all but taste her childhood.

“Homemade peach ice cream,” Mila said, and she rushed to the bathroom.

***

Mila met Clem on a blind date. They went to Meskerem, a favorite of Mila’s, but Clem had not been a huge fan. Mila had started her second job since college, was trying to write a book, and had just finished nursing a broken heart when her friend Ted said, “Hey, I think you should meet this guy Clem I work with. You two would hit it off.”

When she met Clem, she had been surprised, but she rolled with it not letting on. She hadn’t laughed so hard in years, maybe since the first time she’d smoked pot with her high school friends behind the gym. Clem made her cheeks red, her heart flutter, and he provided something she needed direly in her own life: humor. She watched him as he pretended to like the injera with shiro de kibbe. He made faces when he thought she wasn’t looking.

“Maybe Ethiopian food isn’t my cup of tea,” Clem finally admitted, “Next time, want to go to Dave and Buster’s?”

That night, securely outfitted in her grey lounge pants and striped shirt she confided to Ted who had stopped by for a night cap and some gossip.

“I really like him. I just don’t know whether I can date him.”

“Not a good kisser? I dated a guy like that once; let me tell you, it took all I could for me not to toss my cookies right into his mouth whenever he’d pucker up. Girl, you need to drop him like a fly if that’s what’s up.”

“No, I mean, he’s a great kisser.”

Mila thought back to the few hours before, when Clem had been such a gentleman. He opened the door for her. She started to walk in, then turned around, skipped down the step, and she, Mila, had made the first move, planting her lips on his. He tasted vaguely like Ethiopian food, gin and tonic which they had enjoyed at the bar afterwards, and cinnamon gum. When his tongue slid into her mouth, her heart beat fast, and she felt the spark—that elusive spark she had never felt before—and she knew this man who made her laugh so hard was the one for her.

“So what’s the problem?” Ted asked, sighing.

Mila hesitated a moment and then said, “He’s black.”

“And that’s a problem, why?”

“My parents would never approve.”

“Mila, dear, sometimes you just have to let go of your past. Things change”

Oh, how Mila hoped things had changed.

Six months later, Clem had proposed and Mila had accepted. And because of this, she felt they should go meet her family, the prospect scarier than anything Mila had ever faced before.

***

Mila and Clem both had the peach ice cream with real chunks of peach. A little taste of childhood. After they licked their bowls clean, they paid, stood up, and Clem took Mila’s hand as they walked toward the door. Old men in overalls and blue haired ladies stared at them. Mila and Clem walked through the spotlight pretending not to notice.

“We stick out here,” Clem said when they were out the door.

“Clem, we’re not in D.C. anymore,” Mila said, with a laugh, as she gripped his hand a little tighter and gave it a squeeze.

The road trip had been a successful one. They stopped in Memphis on the way down and had barbeque at Central. Clem declared it the best piece of meat he’d ever eaten in his life. They stayed at a hotel called The Royal, which sounded nice, but consisted of a sagging bag, carpet that felt covered in lotion, and mice or some other rodent skittering in the walls all night long. Mila said it was the same old adage: can’t trust a book by its cover. Clem nodded in agreement. Mila hoped her parents felt the same way about Clem. She wasn’t so sure. She’d never mentioned to them Clem’s cover.

Mila’s childhood home sat in a bed of green. Cows chewed up the lawn. Her father had acquired them recently. “You father thinks he’s a farmer in his old age,” her mother had said over the phone.

“A real farm,” Clem said.

“Not really. A hobby,” Mila said.

Mila’s heart raced. She did not know what her mother and father would do or say when she saw Clem. She felt like she had prepared Clem, but she knew she had not prepared her parents. She was just glad her brother, Bobby, had left town. She didn’t need his racist ass making any comments that might hurt Clem’s feelings.

Clem turned down the circular drive. The front porch greeted them warmly and the rockers gently rocked in the wind as if waving hello to old friends. The second step creaked as they walked up it. As a little girl she always tried to make it creak, and as a teenager she always feared the creak as she snuck in from late drunken nights out with friends.

Clem took her hand in his, giving her courage, as their black and white fingers intertwined, and Mila rang the doorbell.

Mila’s mom answered. She wore a rooster-covered apron splattered in some sort of food. She had her reading glasses perched on her nose. She beamed when she saw Mila, averted her eyes to Clem, and then looked back at Mila.

“Mila,” she said wrapping her in her arms. Mila’s mother smelled like her youth: warm baked biscuits, bacon and eggs, and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

“And you must be Clem. I’m Rhonda,” her mother said, putting out a hand to him. Clem shook it and beamed back. Then Mila’s mother pulled him into a hug. “No handshakes here, just warm hugs.”

The house smelled like collards and bacon grease.

“I’m making a meat and three tonight,” Rhonda said.

“What’s that?” Clem whispered to Mila.

“A meat and three veggies. It’s a Southern staple. Is Daddy home?” Mila asked.

“He went up to Garrett’s. I plum ran out of flour, and I’m making a cherry pie.”

“I wish you hadn’t cooked so much. We stopped at Bright’s and had a big lunch.”

“I hope you said hi to Howie.”

“I asked the waitress, and he wasn’t there.”

Howie was one of Mila’s numerous cousins. Mila couldn’t go anywhere in the Oxford area without running into someone she was related to. In high school it had been a joke for her to ask boys what their family lineage was, and then ask her mom, “Is third cousin distant enough?” People always said folks in Mississippi like to marry their cousins, but that was just because everyone was related.

Clem and Mila set their stuff down in Mila’s childhood room. Clem pressed his lips to Mila’s, and they hugged and kissed.

“That went well,” he said, still embracing Mila.

“Daddy might be different. I want to nap, you?”

“Sure.”

They lay in the queen size bed staring up at the ceiling. Mila could hear her heart beating in her ears, the way it did sometimes in the eerie silence of a quiet room. She looked over at Clem, and saw he was sound asleep. After awhile, she got up and walked down the stairs in her stocking feet.

The house smelled of pie. When she and Bobby had been little, their mother had taught them how to make the dough. Mila loved to take the fork and make little indents into the flour. She thought of it as artwork. She loved the way the house smelled with a pie baking in the oven, and even loved her momma when she would smack her hand when Mila tried to get into it before dessert.

Mila’s mother and father stood in the kitchen. Her father’s face had brand new wrinkles above the brow and Mila could barely believe how much older he looked.

“Baby,” he said.

“Daddy.”

“Maybe you ought to wake up Clem. Dinner will be ready in about five minutes,” Mila’s mother said.

Mila walked back up the stairs and woke Clem with a kiss.

“Dinner time. My dad’s here.”

Clem rubbed the sleep out of his eyes then followed Mila down the stairs.

Mila’s mother sat facing them and smiled warmly as they walked into the formal dining room. Steam arose from the rosebud platters that held enough veggies and meat to feed the world. Mila slid into her seat, and Clem sat across from her. Her father walked into the room, after washing his hands, and stopped suddenly.

“He’s black.”

The words hung in the air. Mila tensed. She looked at Clem. He burst out laughing, and soon everyone at the table was laughing.

“I’m sorry,” Mila’s dad said. “I just—”

“It’s quite alright,” Clem said, waving him off.

“I’m Paul,” Mila’s dad introduced himself, awkwardly patting Clem on the shoulder before taking his seat at the head of the table.

They passed around the chicken fried steak, collards, green beans with bit of bacon fat, and homemade macaroni and cheese, and everyone began to eat. When dinner was over, they sat with hands on their stomachs. Clem let a notch out of his belt.

“I’m always telling Rhonda that if she keeps cooking like this I won’t have a notch left to let out,” Paul said, winking at Mila’s mother.

“Well, it’s time for pie, so I hope you still have a little room left, Clem,” Rhonda said, walking out of the room.

She returned with plates of homemade cherry pie and one scoop of ice cream on the side for everyone. When Clem bit into his pie his eyes shone in ecstasy. He gobbled it all up in no time flat.

“This is the best pie I’ve ever had in my life,” Clem announced to the table.

Rhonda flushed with pride.

“Welcome to the family, son,” Mila’s mom and dad said in unison.

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New Beginnings

Hello friendly readers! I’ve been off cruising, and I’m now just getting back into the swing of things with my writing. Today, I wrote a flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terribleminds. I also did something CRAZY, and I submitted a Flash Fiction piece to The Master’s Review. Wish me luck!

Today’s challenge is about real estate. To be honest, I started about three pieces before I finally settled on this one. It’s about memories, but with a little twist.



New Beginnings — 997 words

Cabin

Callie hadn’t been up the mountain in years. The path stood out, still worn by feet. Her father had taken her hand one day, walked her down the path to the valley below, and told her how this footpath had been worn by Indians long before white men ever settled in these parts. Callie never knew if that was true, but she liked the idea of an Indian family walking up to their tee-pee in the same place their log cabin stood.

The cabin stood strong like a soldier but worn and weary from battle. The clearing around the cabin had weeds that went all the way up to Callie’s knees. She bent down and fingered some of the clover by the wooden steps, thinking about how she and Maymay used to make clover crowns to braid into their hair.

Callie stood in front of the steps, amazed the cabin didn’t even have a broken window. It had obviously been deserted years ago. How long after she packed up a bag and disappeared into the moonlit night had the rest of them left? She would never know.

Callie walked up the creaking stairs. She turned and looked at the view. The mountain sloped down and huge evergreens towered up. She could barely see the creek running below and smoke from a rooftop at the center of town rose and disappeared into the blue sky.

She sighed and turned back toward the door. As a little girl, there had been a screen on the door. They never had air conditioning and the screen let the cool air in and the left the bugs out. She had sat on this porch with her sister, brothers, and parents and rocked in handmade rocking chairs while Poppa played the guitar and they all sang out of tune.

She felt a shiver as if the ghosts of her childhood had come up the mountain with her. She opened the door, listening to the familiar creak as the wood pushed against the frame. Dust swirled on the inside of the house, and she waved it away. Light began to filter in, and she adjusted her eyes.

Callie was shocked. Inside the house, her momma’s pink chair stood in the corner with an afghan draped over it. She remembered the afghan. Great Aunt Bertie had made it when Will had been born fragile and premature in the dead of winter. The rainbow pattern had been a favorite of Callie’s, and she remembered sitting on her momma’s lap and touching the coarse wool as Momma sang to little Will.

The bookcases lining the wall contained the Bible and all the classics. She took the Bible down and opened the front page. Her family’s history, inscribed in her father’s scrawling cursive stared back at her. Momma’s birth and death date. And Will’s. Her birth date and Maymay’s and her brothers’ names glared back at her. She thought of the days by the fire. The good old days, she thought of them, where they hadn’t had much but they’d had each other.

The fireplace stood empty, covered in ash. Her brothers hated to clean it out. They would sneeze and cough and complain until Poppa smacked their faces. Momma always came to their defense, but Poppa tsked tsked her.

Callie felt the tears before she knew she had started crying. She walked to the back into her momma and poppa’s room. The bed stood in the corner with dust bunnies under the frame. The mattress was long gone, probably buried with Momma. Will had been six that winter. He had been such a sickly child. He started coughing first. Momma thought he just had a cold, but it settled into his chest and he struggled to breathe. Momma became feverish within a day.

Callie remembered making dinner on the stove and begging Poppa to take them down the mountain to the doctor. She could hear their breathing from behind the closed door. Poppa refused.

“We don’t have the money for that. The herbs will work.”

Only this time, the herbs didn’t work.

Standing in the little room, she remembered the sound as Will took one last raspy breath and never let another one out. Four hours later, Momma did the same. Within a day, Poppa went out to the barn to make their coffins. He left them in the bed until they smelled, unable to stomach the idea of burying them.

Callie remembered sitting by their bedside and holding Momma’s hands. She could still remember Momma’s white face, her cold-stone dead eyes staring up at the ceiling. Poppa said people were supposed to look peaceful in death, but Momma looked fearful. Callie had never forgotten that look.

Six months later, Callie, fifteen years old, left the cabin for good. She awoke in the middle of the night lying in the bed she shared with MayMay. When she crept out onto the porch she stared out into the dark, trying to make out the two crosses. She turned once and looked back through the windows into the living room where she had grown up. She thought about Momma reading the Bible stories to her, with a heap of children gathered around, and little Will securely on her lap. She thought about Poppa with a pipe in his mouth and a grin on his face, rocking in the chair telling Momma not to rile the kids up before bedtime. But mostly, she thought of the two cold, soulless bodies who had sucked the joy out of the house. She hadn’t seen Poppa smile since.

Callie poured the gasoline in the living room. She had placed the Bible in her purse—one thing to remember everything by. She looked around before lighting the match. She tossed it into the puddle of gasoline and watched as the flames began to dance. She walked out the door and down the path as smoke began to fill the crystal blue sky.

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The Dark Half

I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge again. The Challenge was to pick one of Stephen King’s titles and write a completely different story. I’ve never read The Dark Half by Stephen King, but the title spoke to me.

The Dark Half — 1,151 words

P-E-R-F-E-C-T. There’s no such thing. At least that’s what Carmen’s teachers always said. Nobody’s perfect. But Carmen knew better.

“Anything less than perfection is not acceptable.” Her father’s words reverberated in her head. As such, Carmen’s life was ruled by these words.

First an ivy league school, then an 80-hour-a-week job. Then the perfect husband,  then 2 perfect kids, and a golden retriever, living in the perfect neighborhood in the perfect town to complete her perfect life. Who could ask for anything more? And still she didn’t feel like she had her father’s approval. It was enough to drive anyone crazy.

On December 6, she woke up in a clapboard house on a mattress shoved up against a graffiti covered wall. A tattooed man slept next to her. His chest rose and fell as she shielded her eyes from the brightness of the sun streaming through the slats covering the windows.

Carmen had no idea how she had ended up in this halfway house or whatever the hell kinda place it was. And she had no idea who the man beside her could be. She pulled the sheet down and much to her surprise realized she was naked. But worse than that, he was naked too. She gasped in horror. And apparently this gasp was louder than the drum beat going on next door or upstairs or wherever the hell it was going on, because it woke up Tattoo man.

“Hey baby,” he said, moving his naked-as-a-mole-rat body toward her.

She scooted to the far edge of the mattress and pulled the sheet all the way up to her chin, trying to cover up and retain at least a little bit of her decency.

“Who the hell are you?”

“What do you mean, who the hell am I?”

Tattoo Man sat up and scooted closer to her, pulling the sheet down as he did. Carmen tried to scoot further from him and almost fell off the mattress onto the dirty black and white tile floor.

“I have no idea how I got here.”

He scoffed. Then he stood up and walked across the room, completely naked, with everything hanging out. Carmen averted her eyes.

He grabbed a cigarette and lit it.

“You want one?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“The hell you don’t.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and shook his head.

“I have to go.”

Carmen stood up, trying to shield her naked body from his wandering eyes. She didn’t succeed. She threw on the dress, one of her favorites, a blue button-down Ann Taylor dress. At least her clothes hadn’t changed. She slipped on her heels. Tattoo Man watched the whole scene with a look of amusement on his face.

She headed toward the door.

“See you tonight, Love,” he said and reached toward her. She avoided his outstretched arms and skirted out the door.

How the hell did she get there? She looked down at her watch. Christ, it was 8 AM.  Tom would be wondering where she was. Breakfast wouldn’t be made. The kids wouldn’t be driven to school. Tom would be late for work. She would be late for work.

Her car sat badly parallel parked in between two overflowing trashcans. She noted with alarm that she was in East Marlboro, an undesirable area, over the bridge and railroad track from Marlboro. She sped up, hitting 90 after merging onto the Interstate. She couldn’t imagine what Tom was thinking.

She pulled into her driveway. She stared at her beautifully manicured half acre yard. She took in the row of beautifully blooming pink azaleas. She looked at the windows with their perfect symmetry and the front porch, complete with a porch swing. She had worked so hard for the perfect life. She sighed a breath of relief.

She ran into the house, listening to the beep of the alarm on the backdoor as she strode into the kitchen. Tom sat at the table, reading the newspaper.

He looked up at Carmen with surprise.

“God, you scared me. Your conference is already over?”

“What? Why are you home? It’s 8:45.”

“I just dropped the kids off. I’m going into the office later. You’re supposed to be gone another two days.”

“Oh, I, um. I just forgot something.”

“So you came all the way back?”

“From where?”

“Buffalo.” He looked at her like she had two heads.

“Buffalo?”

Why the hell would I be at a conference in Buffalo, Carmen thought. She sat down at the table next to Tom and glanced at the newspaper in his hand. December 8th. Pearl Harbor Day. She had lost two days somehow. How was that even possible? She knew with certainty it was December 6th. And Buffalo? Why would she tell Tom she was at a conference in Buffalo. Her head spun, a tension headache rising up on the back of her neck and making her feel hot. She fanned herself off and stared at Tom with her sickly sweet, perfect wife, mother, employee smile planted on her face.

“I just forgot the presentation.”

“I could have emailed that to you.”

“Yeah, but….Listen—I’m going to get it and drive back to Buffalo. I’ll see you on the—” She realized she had no idea when she was supposed to come back home.

“Tenth.”

“Yes of course.”

Carmen headed toward the door.

“Carmen, aren’t you forgetting the presentation…again?” Tom asked, looking up from the paper.

“Oh yeah.”

Carmen took the steps two at a time like she used to do as a kid. She walked into their perfect Master bedroom, with the perfect shade of gray on the wall, and the perfect comforter—not too warm for the summer months. She rummaged around in the drawers, pretending for Tom’s sake, to look for the presentation. She found a jump drive in the back of her underwear drawer. What the hell is this?

She drove back to the slums of East Marlboro. She took the steps two-at-a-time to apartment 208. Tattoo Man opened the door.

“Back already?”

“You have a computer?”

“Laptop. It’s a Chromebook. We bought it together, Carmen.”

“Yeah, whatever. Where is it?”

He pointed her to the table. She squeezed her temples trying to recall the last few days of her life. Carmen plugged the jump drive into the Chromebook’s USB port and a file labeled The Dark Half popped up.

She clicked it and several newspaper articles came up with the dates: January 4, 2017, February 26, 2017, April 10, 2017, April 14, 2017, July 8, 2017, September 26, 2017, October 3, 2017. She scanned the headlines on the articles. Grand Theft Auto. Bank Robbery. Attempted Murder.

One title in particular caught her eye: Modern Day Bonnie & Clyde Continue to Elude Cops.

She felt breath on her neck. She turned her head and looked into Tattoo Man’s eyes.

“You made a file,” Tattoo Man said, nodding affirmation.

“Are you Clyde?”

“Yeah. And you’re Bonnie.”


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A New Life

Hello lovely readers. Today, I wrote a blog for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The challenge this week was to write something with the prompt new life. 

A New Life — 650 Words

When Star turned thirty-one she wished for a new life. She even wished for a new name. The commitments of everyday life seemed too much, and like her name sake, she almost wished she could fizzle out or be sucked up into the nothingness of a black hole.

On a Thursday, she went to her job at Thomason’s Bolts. She sat at the front desk, staring at the wood-paneled walls, waiting for a customer to call or come in. The clock on the wall ticked away, reminding her of how little time she had left to really make a difference.

Mr. Thomason, who had a red mustache despite his head full of black hair, walked in, threw a file on her desk and said, “What the hell happened with the Parker contract?”

Star took a deep breath and stared at him. For years she had been waiting for this moment. She stood up, put her faux Michael Kors purse on her shoulder, and walked out much to the gaping Mr. Thomason’s surprise. She had felt like cussing him out, but instead she walked out with her pride still intact. A silent revolution of sorts.

Star had always trusted her intuition. She trusted it when she met Bobby Dixon at a night club five years back. She trusted it when she walked down the aisle with him two years earlier. She trusted it when she followed him to a Motel 6 on the edge of town three weeks before, and saw him walk into Room 504 with a bleached-blonde tramp wearing hooker heels. She even trusted it as she packed up the boxes in the two story end unit townhome they owned together and walked away from Bobby. Their relationship had grown stagnant, and she knew his transgression was as much her fault as it was his. At night, they had started to politely ignore one another. And she realized their life together had become boring, monotonous even, and who could fathom living out the next 50 or so years that way. Not her.

On Friday, Star sat in the airport. She had turned off her phone after approximately 52 phone calls and about 150 text messages from Bobby. Mr. Thomason had only called her once and left this message, “So I take it you quit?”

Star bought a one-way ticket to Peru. She had been there before. She had been a teenager, on the brink of adulthood, when her parents had dragged her to the rainforest. They had taken her to small villages tucked along the Amazon where they provided medical services for people in need. Her parents had been upset by the poverty of the people. Star had been entranced by the happiness they found in their simple life.

Star couldn’t explain it, but when she stepped off the plane and shook Señor Arizmendi’s hand, she told him not to call her Star, but to call her Zora.  Señor Arizmendi complied, despite the contradictory evidence of her passport.

They took a bus then a boat to the small village. When Señor Arizmendi stepped off the boat, all the children gathered around him, asking for candy and staring with their big brown eyes at Zora. She smiled and patted their heads, and she handed out the candy Señor Arizmendi had given to her in preparation for this moment. The children flashed toothless grins at Zora, and one small boy, who couldn’t have been older than four, placed his pudgy hand in hers and led her toward the one room school house.

Zora sighed in relief as she found her way in this new life. Zora found new meaning in this simple way of life. She found a way to relax and be happy with just being, surviving, teaching, and letting the children help her grown into the person she knew she had always been capable of being.

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The Frozen Rat’s Foot

So, this morning, I went for a run. And I was listening to David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes. When I listened to it, I had this story idea pop into my head. Well, it wasn’t exactly this story but it started with Major Tom showing up on Halloween, and this teenage girl not knowing how to handle it. I checked Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge and picked a title randomly, and the rest of the story just fell together. Haunting, not for the feint of heart, and probably a little eerie, but I had a great time writing it! Enjoy.

Major Tom had popped into their lives on Halloween. Delores remembered it, because in the weeks prior to his existence, she’d been listening to David Bowie on repeat. Delores thought it could only be a coincidence—his name. Delores’ mother didn’t believe in coincidences though. She said everything happened for a reason.

Jack and Sunny had been trick-or-treating, and Delores sat by the front door giving out candy. Too old to partake in the annual candy-haul, Delores resigned herself to the fact that getting older stunk. The kids groaned when she handed out Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie pops, the cheap candy, making her life even harder.

Major Tom, she didn’t know his name at first, knocked on the door. He had his arm draped casually over a fairy princess and threw a killer smile Delores’ way.

“Howdy,” he said with a wink.

“Hi,” the timid word barely escaped her mouth.

Major Tom had a way of making his presence known.

Delores could feel her mother behind her and smell her Obsession perfume. Momma bit her lip, stuck her hips out, and tried to look coy. Her flirty red hair that come from a box bounced as she sashayed all the way to the door, leaned down toward the Fairy Princess, and deposited a tootsie roll into her bag. Major Tom caught an eyeful of cleavage from Momma’s low-cut Gap shirt.

“I’m Hilda.” My mom hated her name. She put out a hand showing off bright red nails.

“People call me Major Tom,” he said, extending his hand toward her.

The Fairy Princess and I stared at each other, unaware our lives were about to change forever.

Major Tom and The Fairy Princess aka Candace aka Candy-for-short moved in with us two days before Christmas. Snow filled every crevice of the world, and the heat had been out for a week. Momma had bought food but couldn’t pay the heating bill. Major Tom would be our savior, she said. Only he wasn’t.

When they moved in Major Tom insisted on giving Candy-for-short her own room. Delores could not believe it.

“That’s not fair. I’m the oldest,” she said rolling her eyes all the way to heaven.

“You’ll do what he says. It’s about time we had a man to take charge in this house,” Momma said.

Delores stomped up the stairs. She kicked the bed frame, but only managed to hurt her foot. Hot tears streamed down her acne-pocked face. She wiped them away. Stupid Major Tom and Candy-for-short came in and had ruined everything in her life. Delores threw a shoe at her boom box. She turned the tape over—the one her father had given her before he died. She played Ashes to Ashes, “My mother said, to get things done you’d better not mess with Major Tom.” She wanted to barf or scream or both.

Instead she whispered so low that only the dust bunnies could hear, “I hate you, Major Tom. Something evil lurks behind those twinkling eyes.”

She threw her clothes in a box, gingerly untapped the David Bowie posters from the wall, unmade the bed and walked across the room to Sunny’s room. Sunny’s room had bright yellow walls. My Little Ponies littered the floor. When Delores walked in, Sunny bounced up to her.

“Want to play Barbies?”

“I’m much too old for Barbies, Sunny. Go away.”

Sunny hung her head and dejectedly continued to play.

Candy-for-short was given everything she ever asked for. Sunny and Delores often felt overlooked. Jack lived at the neighbors’ house and sometimes Delores didn’t think their mother even noticed he was missing. Major Tom’s eyes began to look eviler and eviler as dark circles formed underneath them. Momma started sleeping in every day. Major Tom and Momma fought and screamed at one another. Sunny and Delores barricaded themselves in their room, and Delores would play the David Bowie album Scary Monsters on repeat. She wondered how a scary monster had showed up in her house so suddenly and changed everything with such ease.

Soon it became apparent Major Tom had lost his job. He sat at home in the green easy chair, staring at the fuzz on the T.V., or he and Momma locked themselves up in their room for days doing God-knows-what. Food became scarce. Delores tiptoed around the house, afraid to make the hardwoods creak. Major Tom’s wrath had reached new proportions. Jack never came home. Delores wondered if the neighbors had secretly adopted him.

It all came to a head on Fat Tuesday.

Candy-for-short and Sunny sat at the kitchen table doing their homework. Their sallow skin seemed to sink into the darkness of the room. Their gaunt cheekbones haunted Delores. What they all needed was a good meal. Major Tom and Momma had locked the door to their room, and no one had heard a peep from them for at least a day.

“Go upstairs and play,” Delores directed the little girls.

Candy-for-short had been slinking around in the last week. Major Tom had been less and less present in all their lives.

“I just wish he would hug me still,” she had confided to Delores the day before. Delores had been secretly relieved when Major Tom grew quiet. His yelling had terrified her. Delores’ dad had been quiet, soft-spoken, and kind. Meek as a mouse her Momma said. Major Tom was the opposite: loud, boisterous, and down-right scary a lot of the time. Plus, he had taken away Delores’ mother, her ally in the house. Even though Delores knew her mother was less-than-perfect beforehand, Major Tom had transformed her into a nightmarish entity who Delores didn’t think she really knew.

Delores opened up the freezer. She didn’t know how it had gotten in there. She pulled it out and set it on the counter. She drummed her fingers on the counter trying to figure out the best way to cook it. Roasted, no? Boiled, ooh gross—all she could think about were her Momma’s boiled Brussels sprouts that made her gag. Fried. She settled on fried. Everything tasted good fried.

She pulled out the deep fryer and got to work, seasoning it, and breading it so it could be fried. She found a jar of green beans and nuked them in the microwave and made some white rice with a pat of butter to go with it. The smell of food cooking brought everyone to the kitchen. Momma and Major Tom stepped out of the bedroom, eyes blood-shot and faces white as ghosts. The girls bounded down the stairs, and even Jack showed up at the back door, eager to take his role as part of the family if it entailed a home cooked meal.

Delores had cut it up and served it on the rosebud plates her grandmother had passed down to them. She put a little scoop of rice, a serving of green beans, and the fried meat on the plate, arranging it with care for everyone at the table, the way her old-Momma used to do. Everyone dug in, eating like they had never eaten before.

Suddenly Major Tom crunched down on something hard.

He pulled it out of his mouth and studied it. His bloodshot eyes took on a quizzical look. Delores had only eaten her green beans and rice. She’d left the meat untouched. She stared at him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“A frozen rat’s foot,” Delores said.

Forks clattered against the plates. Her family’s faces took on a look for simultaneous horror. Jack made a retching noise, and Momma ran to the bathroom.

Delores chuckled, shoveled her remaining food in her mouth, then walked out the front door intent on never going back.

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Party Over

This is another Flash Fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s blog Terrible Minds. The theme of this story is, “Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?”

Party Over (997 words)

ping pong

Solo cups littered the ping pong table. Spilt beer stained the green ping pong court. A ball sat still in a puddle of Bud Lite or worse, PBR. Bodies littered the floor, some of them snoring, cuddled together as if they had just dropped down where they had been standing. Holly sat with her back against the wall. Her eyes wanted to roll up into her head. She had won, or was it lost, at Beer Pong. Either way, a lot of cheap beer had gone down her throat and now the room moved beneath her feet.

Dan stumbled into the room. He slid down the wall next to Holly, his shirt catching halfway up and revealing his left hip bone and ab muscles. He tugged at the shirt, trying to pull it down, as he sat down next to her. Holly felt electricity filter through her body and a longing to put her hands all over Dan’s body. But Dan was just a friend. Just a friend, she reminded herself. Hands off.

Dan leaned into Holly and nestled his head on her shoulder. She leaned into him, feeling her heart beat faster. She wanted to grab his hand and squeeze it.

“I drank too much.” Dan slurred all the words.

“Is there any beer left?”

“It’s 2 in the morning.”

She looked at Dan. Brown wavy hair had fallen forward in front of his eyes. He struggled to keep them open. She knew he would pass out if she didn’t talk to him.

“Maybe I should go.”

“Don’t go,” Dan muttered, pushing his body closer to hers.

“The party’s over.”

“Nooooo.” He drew the “o” out so long then crumpled into a laugh.

“Where have you been?”

Dan pulled his head off of her and sat up straight against the white wall behind him. His green eyes opened widely as if he were suddenly the soberest person on earth. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an empty Trojan wrapper. He placed it in Holly’s hand. A grin grew on his face and then he laughed again, as if this were a personal joke between the two of them.

Holly slumped further down on the wall. She felt a lump in her throat liked she swallowed a tortilla chip the wrong way. She wanted to tell Dan how she felt. She’d wanted for so long to say, “Why don’t you see me? I’m right here waiting for you.” But she couldn’t. It was never the right time.

She thought she would tell him tonight. She thought she would come to this party, have a few drinks, then sit down with him and say, “Look. I’m in love with you.”

But it didn’t happen. First, her best friend Lindsey showed up. They had a beer, then two, then a glass of wine. Lindsey dragged her to the middle of the party to meet some guy who had acne scars on his face. What’s his face? Michael? Or Bill? Something like that. Holly couldn’t remember, yet she spent at least an hour talking to him about his trip to Borneo last spring and all the intricate details of his life. When Dan showed up, Holly had her head close to Michael/Bill, with one hand on his bicep. She saw Dan flit his eyes at her and then walk away. Why should she care anyway? They were just friends.

And so when beer pong started up, Dan joined her and they joked and kidded around for awhile, but the next thing she knew it was 2 AM and she was drunk as hell. And she hadn’t said a damn thing to Dan. Well no fucking wonder. He was off screwing another chick this whole time. She fucking hated him for that. And now she felt like she could cry.

Holly tried to stand up.

“Wait, where are you going?” Except Dan’s drunken words made it sound like, “Late, where you glowing?”

“I need to go.”

Dan reached his arm up and tried to pull Holly back down onto the floor with him.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Holly now stood in a crouch against the wall as if she were in an exercise class working on her hamstrings. The room seemed to spin around her, the ping pong table askew. She felt bile rise in the back of her throat and felt like she might throw up.

“What are you sorry about?”

“Getting drunk.”

“It was a party. That’s what people do.”

“I’m sorry, Holly,” only it sounded like, “I’m slorry, Horry.”

Dan’s slurs were getting worse, and Holly simultaneously wanted to run away and throw her arms around him. Instead, she sat back down on the floor with him.

“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Holly said.

She laid her head on his shoulder this time. He reached up and ran his hands through her golden-blonde hair.

I love you, Dan. The voice inside her head tried to goad her into saying it, but she pushed the words aside. They had both been partying and were drunk beyond all belief. He wouldn’t even remember it if she told him how she felt now.

How many more hours or days could she live this lie? Holly didn’t know. At the beginning of the night, she had felt so much promise. It would be like a romantic movie. She’d tell him, he’d throw his arms around her, and profess his undying love too. But life never played out that way. She’d wanted to tell him for the last year that she was sick of being his friend. She wanted more for their relationship, but there was something, some little part of her holding her back and she didn’t know why.

She closed her eyes, and she wished for the party to be over. The room spun out of control in the blackness of her mind. She leaned over and green colored vomit gushed from her mouth all over the hardwood floors. She wiped her mouth and knew tomorrow would be exactly the same as today.

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In Control

Today’s blog post is a Flash Fiction piece for Terrible Minds again. The assignment is to pick lyrics from one of your favorite songs and use those words as your theme. The song is In Control by Greensky Bluegrass, and the video is after the story. Enjoy!

The Theme:

Though I am not without weakness I will define what lies ahead; I’m not out of control    -Greensky Bluegrass from their song In Control

In Control — 1123 words

What are you going to do when you get out?

His words echoed in my head. Not this, I wanted to respond to his ghost. I didn’t know how much I’d miss Peter. I hadn’t thought the ache would drive me to the needle. I closed my eyes as the liquid seeped into my veins. I could see Peter’s face, his delicate eyelashes that looked too feminine against his scarred face. His bright blue eyes beacons of light which seemed to beckon me back to him.

What are you doing?

I could hear his words, as if he were speaking to me, echoing in my head before the sudden blackness hit me. Too much or not enough, my last thought.

When I woke up I wondered if sheer blackness was what we had to look forward to when we died. I still had a faint hope in God, but why would he give me so much pain? I tried to move but realized my arms were restrained. They took it as a suicide attempt instead of just falling off the wagon.

I opened my eyes and looked to my left.

Peter, my rock, sat in the sunshine next to the window. My eyes struggled against the too bright light to make sense of him there. I had not seen him in months. He looked good, his scar faded slightly, his eyes twinkled, as he leaned forward setting his elbows on his knees. His face emanated kindness and concern.

“Astrid.”

“I’m sorry.” I mouthed the words. My throat felt dry as if I had walked through the desert.

Peter stood up. He looked larger than life. He pushed a button over my bed. A nurse came in wearing a white cap.

“Water.” She nodded at Peter and left.

The wise man built his house upon the rock. The children’s song went through my mind as I gazed at my wise man, the rock, piedra, Peter.

“It doesn’t have to be this way.”

I couldn’t talk. My throat felt like sandpaper. The nurse returned with the water. Peter propped a pillow behind my back and grabbed my elbow, helping me up. He held the cup to my lips and I swallowed the water in one gulp.

“Don’t gulp it down. You’re already weak. You don’t want to throw up.”

“I don’t remember anything.” My voice was scratchy but there.

“Your mom found you. Called me here. It was touch and go at first. But they pulled you through. You were lucky. She let herself in two minutes or so after you overdosed.”

“I guess she’s sending me back.”

“You know it’s a voluntary program. Next time, you get the desire to use will you call me?”

I nodded.

“You know, you’re in control of your life. You’re the one who says whether you live another day clean. Whether you decide to use again. It’s hard. Trust me, I know. I make that decision every day.”

Peter brought his hand up to his face, touching the scar etched against his skin—a constant reminder of his weakness.

“Tell me the story.”

Peter grimaced. “I’ve told this story hundreds of time—to all of my sponsors—but it never gets easier. It’s a reminder to me that weakness has the power to destroy, but can be overcome. Your weakness does not define you. Through my tragedy, I took control of my life. I defined the way I wanted to live.”

He sighed releasing the pain into the story.

“It was Matthew’s eighth birthday. You know, the name Matthew means ‘gift of God,’ and he was. My wife and I couldn’t have kids. Or at least we didn’t think we could. We tried and tried, and when we gave up, Matthew came along. He didn’t seem like other children. He came into this world with his eyes open so wide. He always seemed precocious, like he knew something we didn’t. That day, I had to drive him to Chuck-E-Cheese for his birthday party. I wanted one hit. One hit before I left. I’d done it before, taken him places while I was high. It wasn’t like I was drunk. I felt like I had control when I did meth. Felt like nothing could go wrong. ”

He sighed again. He sat on the edge of my bed, smoothing down the wrinkles on the white hospital sheets and looking over my head.

“But of course, that was just the drug. It made me feel happy–invincible. Or I thought it did. And then we were in a wreck. And Matthew, Matthew who was only eight but acted older, Matthew was gone.” Tears sat in Peter’s eyes.

“I went to jail for 18 months for manslaughter. Driving under the influence. But the worst punishment was losing Matthew. Meg left me. I’d hit rock bottom. And then in prison, I met my sponsor. He took me under his wings. He taught me to forgive myself and to take control of my life again. He taught me to fight against my weakness, my addiction, every day. He told me nothing could bring Matthew back, but that I, like everyone else, deserved a second chance. This scar—” Peter touched his face, “reminds me of Matthew every day, but it also reminds me of the decision I made to change my life and take control. And I know, Astrid, this is only a minor setback for you. I know you can do it. If I can do it after losing everything, you can do it too.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance,” I said, finishing his story for him.

“You have the power inside you to change and to take control. It will be hard to conquer your addiction, but if I can do it anyone can.” Peter said.

He took my hand in his, warmth against cold stone, and squeezed it. In that moment, I felt my blood start pumping again. I felt alive, like I hadn’t felt in months. I felt willingness and control seep back into my veins, passed from Peter to me. Strength, like no other.

I knew he was right. I had to try and believe in myself, to take control of my life, and to conquer the evil that had invaded my life and tried to wrestle control away from me. I had to take it back. I had to become a rock like Peter.

2 Timothy 1:7 <em>For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.</em>

 

 

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A Fallen God

This flash fiction piece is written for The Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge.  This week the challenge was to write 1000 words or less on the theme of the danger of undeserved power. 

A Fallen God – 691 words

Hope had no idea how Bitty became the leader.

Perhaps the nuclear fallout had fried most of their brains. Bitty had an idiotic name, but worse than that he had a God complex.

They walked around aimlessly the first day, collecting people and food. Bitty had on a red coat, and people began to follow him. He dictated rules and led with an iron fist. Halfway through the first day, a teenager stole a can of green beans from Bitty, and he banished him to almost certain death. No one could survive this alone. Then they had found the clearing in the forest, and Bitty had set up camp.

Ash began to rain down on them, and Bitty sat in the center of the clearing like a lump on a log.

“I think we need to find shelter,” Hope said.

Bitty ate a granola bar, one of the few left in the stash. “They’re all dead.”

“If we don’t want to be dead, I think we need to find a shelter,” Hope repeated herself.

The group squatted around Bitty, eyeing the granola bar. He smiled then let out a maniacal laugh.

“Need I remind you, I’m in charge, Hope.”

“And a fine job you’re doing,” she muttered under her breath.

In a previous life, one before the nuke went off Bitty had been a janitor at the school where Hope taught science. He terrorized the children by jumping out of the bathroom stalls. He thought it was funny, but no one else did.

Hope walked away from the group and started picking up twigs. She wanted to find a cave. The group had sought shelter in the woods so surely there was a cave somewhere around here. She turned around and saw the boy sneaking up on her. Dirty face, torn clothes. He’d been orphaned and added to the group somewhere along the way. Hope guessed he was about ten, but maybe a small twelve.

“You’re right about him, you know.”

“Help me find a cave if you want to tag along.”

“Are we going to just leave them?”

“They’re blind followers and that’s how we got into this mess in the first place. Hand me your coat.”

He looked at his coat, shrugged, slipped it off and handed it to her. She tore it to pieces, with the help of a hunting knife scavenged from one of the dead along the way.

“Tie it loosely around your mouth. This radioactive waste can kill us.”

They found a cave. It wasn’t deep. Scat littered the ground which frightened her but not as much as the death falling from the sky.

The winter sun hid behind the ash rain.

“Shelter is always important, no matter what Bitty says.”

It took two days. Hope heard Bitty preaching his nonsense on the first night. The sheep huddled around him. Bitty said sunshine and fresh air were more important than shelter. The sun could barely shine through the darkening clouds.

On the second day, Bitty’s big mouth remained unusually quiet. The ash had stopped falling. They covered their mouths and crept into the clearing. Bitty sat on a throne of pine needles and coats. Hope could see his chest moving up and down, but just barely. The group of twenty surrounded him. Some had fallen forward on their knees with their heads between their outstretched arms as if they were praising a deity instead of a stupid idiot.

Hope put her arms around the boy.

“Search their pockets and backpacks for food and water. We should move on before more ash falls.”

“Are they dead?”

“Not yet. But they will be soon. There’s nothing we can do for them now. Bitty with his asinine ideas.”

Hope and the boy packed up bags and began marching out of the woods. They stopped at the edge of the clearing and looked back on the scene. Bitty’s head had rolled to the side, propped at an odd angle on his shoulder. Power had corrupted him and led to the deaths of the others. Hope knew she would never make that mistake, not now, when the future depended on their survival.

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-85365090

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The Tree

Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.

The Tree — 924 words. 

virginia-live-oak-440351_1920

Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.

When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.

When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.

Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.


“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.

Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.

Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.

“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”

A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.


“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.

“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.

The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.

“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.

“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.

“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.

“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”

After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.

The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.


“I met someone,” she said.

“Who?” her father asked.

She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.

“His name is Deke Malloy.”

“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.

Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.

“I think I’m in love, Dad.”

Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.

“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”

They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.


In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.

Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.

Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.

She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.

“Now about that tire swing…”

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