Aurora Borealis

A short story to break my writing block. Started this a while ago, and decided to finish it today. Now I’m working on some more substantial writing. I hope to set goals and be more active on my blog again too.

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“Daddy, tell me about the aurora borealis,” Hetty said.

I sighed, settled down on to her bed, tucked the blanket under her chin, and began the story for the hundredth time in my daughter’s short life.

When I wasn’t much more than a boy I trekked up to Alaska to do some fishing. In those days you could hitchhike just about anywhere. I didn’t have a lick of money, but some kind strangers gave me a ride. Nobody worried about murdering and all that. I stayed up there to fish King Salmon. Worked for a guy named Kallik. Name meant lightning, he told me. And boy was he lightning. He’d get so drunk that the guy on his bad side could never see his fist coming.

We lived in a log cabin. Free board, and made a little bit of money. Not much mind you. A bunch of drifter guys just trying to make a living someway somehow. I didn’t have what you have, a family who loved me. I just had myself. I wasn’t more than eighteen. Just a boy really, and a drifter.

One day, Kallik invited me to hike with him. I showed up and he told me I looked just like a typical white guy—unprepared for the situation at hand. He drapped a fur coat over my shoulders and said I would need it. We would climb the mountain, he said, and meet some of his friends and family to watch the aurora borealis. We would camp at the top of the mountain, eat meat off the spicket, some shit like that. I couldn’t even imagine—not like I’d been in Scouts as a kid.

We hiked for what seemed like days. Kallik gave me jerky to sustain me. He had energy like a battery—just kept on going. Not me. I felt out of place that day. As we went up in the mountain, the snow came. I was glad I’d bought a good pair of boots with my first paycheck. I was grateful for Kallik’s fur around my shoulder. We walked for four hours—must’ve been, and then I saw smoke rising on the horizon, as the sun had started to drift down behind the mountain.

“That’s camp,” Kallik said, when we arrived at the top.

People sat around the camp site by the fire, in tents, playing music, talking, cooking food. I felt like I wandered back into time. I felt like I was intruding on some private ritual where I didn’t belong.

“When the lights come out, my people say it’s the spirits coming out to play, Kallik told me as he sat down on a log and held his hands in front of the fire.”

“I sat down next to him. A woman with a long black braid came out of the tent. I couldn’t help staring at her. Her eyes shone with a light I’d never seen before as if she could see the past, present, and future all at once.

“Why’d you bring the white guy?” she immediately asked Kallik, as she took a seat next to me.

“Dan, this is Meri, Meri, Dan,” Kallik said.

We ate and sat in silence for a while. The lights came out to play, and we stared in awe. A silence fell upon camp like the quietness of falling snow enfolding the world.

“It looks supernatural,” I said. “I can see why people flock to see this phenomenon.”

“Just science. Magnetic poles and such,” Meri said, sounding bored but giving me a cockeyed smile and a wink.

Kallik wrapped furs around our shoulders to keep us warm in the bitter cold night, and we sat staring up at the sky unable to look away from the beauty of existence.

“Mary doesn’t sound like an Inuit name,” I said, turning to look at the woman next to me.

Meri wrapped her arms around me and leaned her head on my shoulders causing my heart to beat rapidly and something otherworldly arose in me like the green lights dancing across the sky drawing us together.

“It’s M-e-r-i. Short for Meriwa,” she said, as I wrapped my arms around her and leaned in.

“Yeah, know what it means?” Kallik asked.

I shook my head.

“Thorn,” he said, with a little laugh.

“And your mom has been a thorn in my side ever since,” I said, wrapping my arms around my daughter, brushing her long black hair out of her face, and kissing her goodnight.

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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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Rejection

 

I received my rejection from the Master’s Review yesterday. SIGH. 

Curses, rejected again!

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Here it is in all its glory:

Dear Lauren, 

Thank you for sending us “I Held Your Heart Once” for consideration in our Flash Fiction Contest. We really enjoyed reading your writing, and are flattered you chose to submit to us. This is one of our most popular contests, and we thank you for your patience while we read through all of the submissions. 

I am sorry to say that your submission was not selected for publication. It is clear that you are a very talented writer, and your piece stood out from the pack. Unfortunately, we had to decline some excellent stories, but we are grateful for the chance to read such high quality work. 

We wish you the best of luck with your writing and look forward to bringing you more wonderful stories. Part of our aim is to support great work from new writers and we consider every story we read an effort toward that goal. We couldn’t do this without you. We hope to read more of your fiction in the future. 

Thank you again, 
The Masters Review Team


In case you’re interested in reading my rejected piece, I’ve republished to this blog: https://laurengreenewrites.com/2018/09/06/i-held-your-heart-once/

What a nice rejection. I mean, honestly. I’m a very talented writer. I know this. I just can’t seem to get actually published. The thing about writing is that there’s constant rejection. A rejection letter can send you for a loop. I knew that story was good. It just wasn’t what the Master’s Review was looking for. That’s their loss.

So how do you deal with the rejection of not getting published? Maybe you take a drink. Or go for a run. Then you start writing again. Or you send out that piece that maybe didn’t work for the Master’s Review to someone else and wait for the next rejection letter to roll in…or if you’re really lucky, an acceptance.

I like to think about how J.K. Rowling was rejected a billion times before she became a published writer. I also like to think about how much I enjoy writing and sharing it with others. And about how sometimes my writing is just for me. That I need to write to be fulfilled, and if I’m never officially published then I’m never officially published.

Roll with it, baby.

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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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Vengeance

Another Chuck Wendig challenge today. Chuck asked us to write a story about revenge. I decided to write about a victim of bullying, and how she decides to enact revenge on the bully.

Unfortunately, this story hits home to me. As a 4th grader, I was repeatedly bullied and physically assaulted by another child. I have alopecia, and because I was different, this little boy decided to pick on me. I didn’t tell my parents for a long time. I confided in my sister. She and I spent time sending him love and positive energy, as my sister thought this might make him change his ways. It didn’t.

The next year, my parents moved me out of that school into a private school. I have never forgotten what that little boy did to me, and to this day I wonder if he feels guilty about it. I also wonder what was going on in his life for him to treat me that way. Bullying is a serious issue and should always be addressed. I don’t want to enact revenge on my bully, but an I’m sorry would have been nice. The beginning part of this story is a autobiographical. Teach your kids to be kind and accepting, especially to those who are different.alo


Vengeance — 839 words

 

I had been obsessed with finding Burke Hardwich since about seventh grade. Lying in my bed at night, I pictured his 4th grade self. His two canines missing—never having grown back—and me looking up at him from the ground. The first time he hurt me, we had been lined up for music. He pushed me down, and I went skidding onto the black asphalt, my arm split wide open. I needed stitches. I told my parents it was just an accident.

The accidents continued. Burke would find me alone on the corner of a playground, and he would hit me in the stomach. He kicked out my foot while I carried a tray of spaghetti across the blue and white tile of the cafeteria, red sauce spraying the walls like blood.

I never told Mom and Dad how much Burke hurt me. I started having stomachaches. I sat in the office for most of my 4th grade year, waiting to make a phone call to Dad’s secretary at work who I could always depend on to pick me up.

Burke moved in 5th grade. I felt relief in his leaving of course. My tormentor was gone, and there wasn’t another one to take his place. But as the years went on I became more and more obsessed with Burke.

Fast forward to now. I’m sitting in a dingy apartment in Alabama, and I’ve just landed a job with Burke’s company. He’s a high-powered CEO. Making the big bucks. He’s married and has 2.5 kids, a white picket fence, and a dog. I have none of those things. I am alone. I have fixed up my appearance today. I’m wearing a red dress designed to accentuate my curves. I’ve had my teeth stained white, put on just enough makeup, and my hair has been recently curled. I look in the mirror, double-checking myself. I look hot. Who could say no to this?

My pseudonym is Camilla. The name means warrior, and that is what I am. For too long, I have let Burke destroy me, and now it’s my turn to destroy him.

In the office, I plant myself at my assigned desk. My heart beats fast in excitement, not nervousness. Burke comes in, chatting on his cell phone. He raises his eyebrows at me in acknowledgment. The skin in between his eyebrows crinkles up as he looks at me. I see recognition, like he knows me but can’t place me. Yes, Burke, you do know me—at least a previous version of myself.

He goes into his office. A few minutes later, he pings me. I walk in. I place my whole body up on his desk, and I cross my sleek legs. I tap my foot, and my heel slips on and off. I take in his look. His eyes run up and down my body, trying to make sense of what he sees. I know he wants to touch me. I can feel it. I like playing this game of cat and mouse with him. I like being the one in control, not the one flat on my back in the asphalt, or being punched silly on the playground.

The weeks go on. I make advances. At first, he doesn’t do anything. Then one day, there is a touch of my hand. A week goes by. My phone is set to record when he tells me what he wants to do with me. I smile and nod, playing along. That night, I send the audio file to HR. They waste no time in terminating him. I am exultant at his demise.

The next day, I show up at his door. His wife answers. She is grimacing at me.

“Are you her?”

“Is Burke home?”

“Burke,” she screams, and slams the door in my face.

He comes out his face tilted down in guilt and angst. I understand I have probably destroyed his marriage too, a fact that makes me giddy.

“You ruined my fucking life,” he says. “Why would you do that?”

“Burke, do you know who I am?” I ask.

I am playing with fire, being there anyway. He could call the police. He could say I have been stalking him. It would be true. I stand with my hands on my hips and stare at him. His face looks like a question mark. Of course, he would not know. I had meant nothing to him in 4th grade. I was a piece of garbage he had been intent on annihilating. He had put me away with all of the rest of his childish things.

I reach into my purse, and I pull out the 4th Grade class picture. I am in the front row, glasses, and bald spots from alopecia. Burke stands in the back, towering over everyone. I tap on my picture as realization spreads across his face.

“I’m sorry,” he says, shaking his head.

“Yeah me too. But now we’re even.”

I throw the picture at him, and I walk away.

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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 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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Seven Minutes in Heaven

So today, I decided to write something a little lighthearted. There has been a lot of bad news lately, and it takes a toll on me sometimes. I thought this morning, I’d get on here and blog about something serious. But this story of innocence came to mind, and I liked where it went. Sometimes we all need a break from the seriousness of life. Enjoy.  

The bottle spun on the wooden table. My stomach lurched as it came to a stop on Bennett. I’d never kissed a boy before, and here in this dark basement room, the other kids jeered and cheered.

“KISS HER!” they shouted.

“Holly and Bennett sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G–” Bracey Stacy said.

“Shut-up Stacy,” Bennett said.

He leaned over the table and placed his lips on mine. I hands felt sweaty and my heartbeat thundered in my ears.

“Tongue, do it,” Bracey Stacy said.

His lips felt warm, and I opened my mouth just a smidge. His tongue darted in, and it felt wet and slimy like one of those goldfish you win at the fair. I held my eyes shut as his tongue explored my mouth.  I ventured into his mouth with my tongue, feeling his molars, and tasting his breath. It felt like we kissed forever. And then I moaned, and the whole room burst out in laughter. My eyes flew open, and I could see every pore and pimple on Bennett’s face.

“Damn, get a room guys,” Mitch said as Bennett pulled away.

I blinked, and put my hands on my lap, squeezing them together until my pale skin turned bright pink as I sat back in my seat.

Bennett’s blue eyes stared at me from across the table, and he gave me a half-grin.

“Okay, next,” Bracey Stacy said.

Silence descended as the bottle spun again. Bracey Stacy looked hopeful, but the bottle never landed on her. It landed on Bennett and me three more times.

“We should do Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Bennett said after the last spin.

Ridiculously, images of angels and gospel music filled my naïve thirteen-year-old mind. I could almost see the pulpit and Father Roy up there preaching to the ladies in their Sunday best.

“Okay,” I said.

He stood up and walked over to me. I stared up at him in wild adolescent wonder. This good-looking, blonde, 5’7”, fourteen-year-old liked little old me. He placed his hand in mine. Skin-on-skin, I could feel the calluses decorating the palms of his hand. My hands felt sweaty and I worried he would pull away. But he held on tight, and he led me to the closet. I looked back at the kids gathered around the table staring at us with looks of astonishment as we headed into uncharted territory.

Mitch and the other boys stood up and set the timer on the clock radio.

“Turn on the T.V.,” Bennett said.

“Why? You don’t want us to hear you go smoochy-smoochy?”  Mitch asked with a laugh.

Five minutes ago I hadn’t even kissed a boy.

The closet smelled of mothballs and sweaty old tennis shoes. I pushed toward the back as Bennett pulled the door close. Total darkness descended upon us.

“What are we doing in here?” I whispered.

“Where are you?”

“In the coats—like Narnia.”

“We only have seven minutes.”

I felt his hand on my waist, and he pulled me close to him. I could feel his breath on my cheeks and see the white of his eyes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever been this close to anyone before. I could see the self-assured smirk on his face. And then his mouth was on mine, salty but sweet. Our tongues explored each other’s mouths. Bennett’s hand gripped my shirt, and his fingernails dug a little into my tender skin. He pulled away for a second.

“Can I touch you here?” he asked. But I couldn’t see what he referred to and his hands were on my chest before I knew it.

“Yes,” I said—an affirmation or an afterthought–I wasn’t sure which.

“Have you done this before?” I asked.

The dark seemed to be crowding in on us. Hadn’t it been seven minutes? It felt more like twenty.

“Never. I like you, Holls,” he said.

His hand felt my cheek. My heart thumped in my chest. I could push my way around him and leave the closet. But still, I liked the attention. I liked him. And I had agreed to go in there with him. I felt electricity between us and a stirring inside I’d never felt before.

“Is this what it feels like?” I asked.

“What?” His face was so close to mine, I could see his teeth and they seemed to glow white in the dark small space.

“Heaven?”

“I hope so,” Bennett said. “Now where were we?”

************


So when was your first kiss? How old were you?

I’ll share–I was thirteen and at Destin with some friends. I kissed a guy in his car, so he was much older. I don’t even remember his name. My first important kiss was with my high school boyfriend, when I was 16. And probably the most memorable one.

 

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Living With Harmony

Here’s another short story for Chuck Wendig’s weekly challenge. This week, the theme was “To fix something, you first must break it.” I’m not quite sure if anything in my story ever was actually fixed, but maybe that’s the point. You decide and let me know what you think.

Living With Harmony (1,025 words)

Harmony liked to take things apart and try to fix them. Her mom and dad said she would be an engineer some day. Her brothers said she was the worst. She constantly took apart their drones, robots, or any other amazing electronic they had received. Most of the time she couldn’t figure out how to put them back together again.

At school, Harmony didn’t quite fit in. All the other girls talked about princesses then as they grew older they talked about makeup and boys. She liked boys, but makeup didn’t make one iota of sense to her. Why would you put makeup on your face like a clown? Didn’t people know lipstick had been created to cover up the effects of tuberculosis? She didn’t understand how she could feel so smart and so able, but not fit into the box of society.

Then she met Reed. Reed fixed everything. The first time he came over to her house, the door creaked as he opened it. Reed asked if they had WD40. This cemented what Harmony already knew: they were made for each other.

Their relationship grew and eventually they married.

“Are you sure he’s the one?” Harmony’s oldest brother asked.

“Why wouldn’t he be?”

“He’s a fixer.”

“I’m a fixer too,” Harmony insisted.

“No. You’re a destroyer. That’s what you are.” Her brothers laughed at her.

But Harmony didn’t see it that way. She and Reed both liked to fix things or at least try. She couldn’t figure out what her brothers were driving at so she ignored them.

Harmony and Reed moved into a studio apartment on the East side of town. The apartment started out as perfect as their marriage. They tinkered together toiling steadily over different projects. Reed landed a job in an up and coming architect firm while Harmony continually questioned what to do with her life.  And Harmony grew bored. There was nothing for her to take apart and for Reed to fix in the little apartment. The super took care of all of that.

On a Monday, Harmony burnt the pancakes on purpose.

“Maybe there’s something wrong with the burner,” Reed said.

“There’s nothing wrong with the burner. I just burnt them.”

“That’s okay,” Reed said, giving Harmony a kiss on the cheek as he headed out the door.

Harmony sighed. Now she sat alone in the apartment bored with her perfect little existence. She took apart the television. Only, she couldn’t figure out exactly how to get it back together. She did the best she could, screwing in bolts and nuts, and putting the bunny ears back on top of the television.

Reed came home, sat down, and tried to turn on the boob tube.

“The TV is broken,” Harmony said.

“How’d that happen? I wanted to watch Johnny Carson”

Harmony shrugged. She went into the kitchen and scrubbed the pristine counters. Reed worked on the television. That night they made love more passionate than they had in six months. Harmony knew what she had to do to make things work.

The following day, Reed’s car wouldn’t start when he left work.

“I’m going to be late,” he said over his office phone.

“Working on a tough project?”

“Car won’t start. But it’s the strangest thing—I took the car to the dealership yesterday and everything was okay. I’m wondering if someone messed with it.”

Reed’s voice had an edge to it Harmony had never heard before.

“Honestly, Reed. Why would someone want to do that to you? You’re being paranoid.”

“Yes, I guess you’re right. Save me some dinner.”

He almost caught her with the toaster. She pulled out a piece, and when he went to fix it he found the piece in the drawer.

“Harmony, did you mess with the toaster?”

“No,” she said from the living room where she worked feverishly on a particularly difficult crossword puzzle.

“But I found a piece to it, in the junk drawer.” He stood, towering above her, holding the piece.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Harmony said, looking up at him for a minute then looking back at her crossword puzzle. “Do you know a four letter word for sex?”

“Fuck, I just don’t get it. Everything is breaking around here.” He slanted his eyes toward Harmony, but she had returned to her crossword puzzle.

That night when he crawled into bed, his breath smelled of gin and tonic. Harmony pushed her body closer to him. He pulled away.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m so tired. Do you realize I’ve fixed three things today? I feel like everything is falling apart.”

As time marched on, Harmony became more adept at breaking things and Reed became more adept at fixing them. With everything Harmony broke, she felt closer and closer to Reed. She loved how he could fix even the most complicated things she broke. But then she started to notice Reed pull away from her and retreat into himself. She felt as if they were no longer in concord with one another. And she had no idea how to fix it.

The second summer of their marriage, the air conditioning went out. The apartment sweltered. The Super had gone on vacation.

“Aren’t you going to fix it, Reed?”

“Fix it? I’ve fixed everything. And everything keeps falling apart. It’s like I’m cursed or something.”

“Well have you looked at it?”

“Hell, I just don’t know what to do. It seems like it started when the car wouldn’t start. Then the TV broke, the fire, the carburetor in the car, the stupid toaster, and now this goddamn air conditioning. I just don’t see why all of this keeps happening?”

“But Reed, you’re so good at fixing things.”

“Harmony, there are some things that can never be fixed.”

With those lines, Reed walked out the door. Harmony looked out the second story window and watched as he hailed a cab. She had no idea where he was going, but she knew he wouldn’t be coming back. Harmony could create problems, but she could never quite figure out how to fix them.

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Baby Doll

This is a short story I wrote for the MOOC I’m taking at http://www.novoed.com.

Baby Doll

1673 words

The first time I knew my daddy was a liar was when Shepherd dug up Pulley’s bones. At first, I pretended the newly unearthed bones were dinosaur bones. I told Spitzer that our backyard, next to the blooming blue hydrangeas, had once been the site of an ancient meteor shower that destroyed the dinosaurs and paved the way for us.

Spitzer called me an idiot, dug a little further into the soft black soil, and pulled out Pulley’s dusty, dirty red collar.

“Last I heard no dinosaur ever wore a collar.”

Spitzer chunked the collar at me and stomped up toward the cold air conditioned house to escape the hot thick summer Alabama air.

I wiped my face, smearing dirt under my eyes like the football players I’d seen on Daddy’s big screen. I didn’t cry. I just picked up the bones, the collar, placed it back into the hole and covered it up. Daddy had told me Pulley ran away, but now I knew the truth.

“Bad dog!” I shouted at Shepherd.

He lifted one ear, twitched his leg then laid his head back into the cool shade under the Oak tree as if he couldn’t be bothered with my scolding.

That night at the dinner table, Daddy smelled sticky-sweet. I didn’t confront him. He’d made some crockpot concoction that resembled mush and put canned LeSeur peas with the little mushrooms on the table in one of Mama’s old corning ware dishes. I made it my job to hide the peas under the mush and took one, maybe two bites. Spitzer talked a lot about his day. About the boys at school who he could beat up with one hand tied behind his back. About how he wanted to go hunting over the weekend and he knew he could peg a prize-winning deer.

Daddy interrupted him mid-sentence. “What’s wrong Baby Doll? You’re not eating much?”

“Nuthing,” I said, staring at the peas on my plate. I took the prongs of my fork and mashed, making pea-guts.

Daddy nudged me with the toe of his work boot. I thought about how Mama used to complain that he drug dirt all over the house, even on her Mama’s old Oriental rug. That rug was full of dog hair now and dirt clods were all grounded in. There weren’t anyone to prevent that from happening now. Lord knows, Daddy and Spitzer didn’t care about the finer things in life.

I slunk into my room after dinner. Shut the door and stared at the picture of Daddy and Mama with Spitzer and me, when we were all together. I fell onto my flower printed bedspread and into a fitful sleep.

The next time I found out Daddy was a liar was in November, two years later. I’d grown and was all legs and arms, Daddy always said. Spitzer wore braces, had broken out into a volcano of acne, and was obsessed with girls who somehow found his adolescent-pocked face endearing. Why anyone would like Spitzer was beyond me.

Alice Chambers came over on a Saturday. She brought Halloween candy with her. I couldn’t believe she still had some left, because when Halloween fell in our house, Spitzer and I made a mountain of candy on our living room floor, divided it out, traded, and then ate it until we were sick. Twenty-four hours after Halloween our pillowcases full of sugary delights held nothing but a few empty wrappers.

Alice Chambers had ringlet curls and freckles on the bridge of her nose. That day she wore a white dress with multi-colored polka dots. I grabbed the fabric with two fingers and let the slippery silk slide through my fingers. I loved Alice Chambers and hated her at the same time, because she had nice clothes and a mama.

Alice Chambers and I played dolls in my bedroom. Her doll had a dress identical to hers. My doll had one eye and just a scrap of hair left on her head. Alice and I sat the dolls on the floor on a checkered handkerchief I had borrowed from Spitzer’s room.

“They’re having a picnic,” I said.

“They need drinks and food.”

“I’ll get some.”

I went into the kitchen and opened the cabinets next to the mini-fridge. Daddy had all kinds of tiny cups in that cabinet next to big bottles of alcohol. He barely drank the alcohol, but sometimes when his hunting buddies came over they’d reek of the stuff by the end of the night. I pulled out a big bottle of amber colored liquid and a couple of the tiny glasses. I brought them to the bedroom. Alice Chambers giggled when she saw me struggling not to drop them, but then came to my rescue.

I opened the bottle and poured the tiny glasses full of the liquid.

“I have some food over here,” I said, taking plastic pieces of watermelon from the play fridge I had deserted in the corner of my room.

We sat down, behind our dolls.

“Let’s take a drink,” I said.

Alice nodded. I took a swig of the amber colored liquid, and when I started to swallow my throat burned and my eyes watered. Instead of swallowing it, I let it spill into the cavities of my mouth making my cheeks as big as a chipmunk saving for winter. Then when I couldn’t hold it in anymore I spit it out all over Alice Chamber’s beautiful party dress. All of this happened in a matter of seconds, but it felt like an eternity, and Alice still had her tiny glass full of that vile stuff that I couldn’t believe Daddy drank.

Alice stood up, dripping with alcohol, a big brown stain on the front of her dress. Her face turned red, she looked horrified, but she didn’t say anything at first.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, standing up and trying to pat her down.

“Well,” Alice said, trying to be lady-like. “I—I never. And just so you know, there’s no Santa Claus.”

She shouted it at me, grabbed her doll and ran out of the room, out of the house, and out of my life forever. I stood there in complete shock, feeling dizzy from the little bit of amber liquid I’d drank, then sat down on the floor amidst the ruined picnic. No Santa Claus. But Daddy had said Santa came down the chimney and brought toys. And if there was no Santa Claus how did I end up with a new bike last Christmas? I knew Daddy couldn’t afford that with his no-good damn beggar’s salary. But still, I didn’t ask Daddy. Instead, I marched into Spitzer’s room where he was sucking the face of some girl, and demanded to know the truth. He caved as always, told me the truth, and then told me to get the heck out of his room.

The third time I found out Daddy was a liar was when the letter came from Mama. To be fair, I was snooping. Spitzer always said my dirty snooping would lead to no-good. Daddy’s room had coins on the dresser, and sometimes I took these to buy pencil grips. I liked the way the pencil grips fit in my fingers. They made it so I didn’t get callouses, and I had quite a collection of them. Well that week, there was a rainbow grip on sale at school and I was determined to buy it, but I’d spent all my money on Necco wafers when I’d been in town with Spitzer that past weekend. So I was on a mission to find some loose change in Daddy’s room when I stumbled across the letter.

It was folded on his nightstand into a neat little square. When I opened it, the paper felt soft under my skin like it had been opened and closed a billion times.

James,

I’ve thought about coming home. I don’t know what you told the children when I left three years ago. For all I know, you told them I’m dead and gone. I deserve that after the way I left you. Now I know I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for an escape. I couldn’t deal with the PTA meetings, the dinners on the table, and the demands of the kids. I didn’t know how to tell you, and when Sam came into my life I took it as an opportunity to move on.

Maybe this apology comes too little too late. I think of Baby Doll and Spitzer so much. I can’t even imagine how they’ve grown. Does Baby Doll still have curls? Is Spitzer still playing ball? I know this letter will hurt you. That’s not my intention. But I want you to know that I think about them. Often. And of you.I I still love you. My address is above. Please write back.

All my love,

Eileen

I traced the words with my fingers. Big fat tears fell from my eyes onto the paper, making it weaker than it’d been before. I sat it down on the shag carpet, and took a piece of my dress and wiped it dry, carefully, so as not to rip it. My mama was alive. Not dead like Pulley. Alive and well and living somewhere without us. Daddy had told Spitzer and I she was dead. Deader than a doornail, I’d thought because I’d been little then.

I didn’t hear Daddy walk in. I didn’t see his face. But the next thing I felt were his big bear arms around me. I smelled his Daddy smell, cologne mixed with sweat, that sticky-sweet smell that always comforted me, and I felt the scratchiness of his beard on my face.

“I’m so sorry, Baby Doll,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”

I felt the hotness of his tears on the back of my neck, and I turned around and wrapped myself into his arms and let him hold me and rock me like I was still his baby doll.

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