September 25, 2017

Grandfather Fox lay down for a nap in his most dignified manner. This was not difficult. Grandfather Fox did everything in his most dignified manner, and as a result, was accustomed to the effort required. However, Grandfather Fox’s determination to nap did not prevent Franny the kit from pestering him.

The little cub poked and prodded her Grandfather, scampering around him on clickety-clackety little paws until the old fox finally snapped, nipping at his granddaughter’s tail, and biting just hard enough to elicit a yelp.

Go pester someone else,” he growled.

Grandfather, it seemed, took his naps seriously, and so Franny took her wounded tail and moved on to pestering her Mama, who was in their burrow’s kitchen, making dinner.

Mama,” she asked. “How come Grandfather only gots one eye?”

Only has,” her mother corrected.

Has.” Franny rolled her eyes, as much as foxes are capable of rolling them, anyhow. “How come Grandpa only has one eye?”

He lost it in the Great Meadow War,” Mama Fox said.

Franny’s eyes grew round.

There was a war?” she asked.

Yes,” Mama sighed. “It was a long, long time ago, before I was even born.”

Who were we fighting against?” Franny asked.

Mama Fox looked around quickly, making certain that Grandfather was, in fact, asleep. The old man didn’t like talk of the war – it brought back bad memories. And he still had nightmares about it. Sometimes, she could still hear him muttering in his sleep. But it looked like Grandfather was firmly asnooze, so she answered.

We were fighting the forest foxes,” Mama said.

Forest foxes?”

Franny had lived her whole life in the meadow. She didn’t know there were forest foxes. She didn’t even know that there was a forest. All Franny knew was long green grass, and stealing food from the Farmer, and curling up in a warm spot of sunshine on the grass. She had no idea that there could be forest foxes.

How different their lives must be, she thought.

What are the forest foxes like?” she asked.

They’re bad,” Mama said, more harshly than she’d meant to.

She glanced around again, making sure Grandpa was still asleep, and then offered more of an explanation.

They’re not like us,” she said. “They’re …. Wild.”

Franny giggled.

But Mama, we’re all wild,” she said.

Mama Fox shook her head.

Not like they are,” she said ominously. “They’re savages. Beasts.”

Franny hadn’t known there was a forest until about a minute ago.

How far away is ‘the forest’?” she wanted to know.

She imagined it to be a distant, mythical place. She thought it must be so far that she’d never be able to get there on her own.

Not far,” Mama said. “It rests just beyond the meadow. It’s where the sunlight ends and the trees begin.”

Franny had never been to the end of the meadow, but she knew where it was – some of the older kits liked to lay in the shade, and had ventured into the darkness of the trees. But she hadn’t known before that the trees were ‘the forest.’

She hadn’t known that danger lurked so nearby. And she was scared.

W-what do they look like?” she asked.

Mama Fox subconsciously fluffed up her own fur.

They look nothing like us,” Mama Fox told her. “For one thing…”

She leaned closer her child, so she could whisper.

Their fur is red.”

Red?” Franny squeaked.

Yes,” Mama Fox nodded. “It’s nothing like our beautiful deep orange fur. Their fur is red, like blood.”

Franny shivered, imagining these savage foxes.

Mama?” she asked, her voice small and scared.

Yes, darling?”

W-will they ever come here?”

Franny was half-panicked. She hadn’t known these evil foxes existed before… but what was stopping them from coming here, especially since the forest was so close?

No, sweetie,” Mama Fox said. “They won’t come here. They stay in the forest. That was part of the treaty that ended the war. They stay on their territory and we stay on ours.”

Franny couldn’t sleep that night. She tossed and turned, having turbulent nightmares about blood-red foxes with crazy eyes creeping up to her family’s burrow in the darkness.

And she made a choice. She had to see one. She had to know if they were real. She needed to know what they looked like, and if they meant her family harm.

And with those thoughts, she drifted into an uneasy sleep.

******

The morning dawned sunny and bright. It was almost bright enough for Franny to forget about her nightmares of the previous evening. Almost.

As usual, the kits played together, play-fighting and rolling around in the green meadow grass and lazing in the sun.

Somehow, as they tumbled around, their play brought them closer and closer to the dark woods on the opposite side of the meadow. Franny made sure of it, gently poking and nudging the other little ones, until they were mere feet away.

The other kits continued their play, but Franny stared into the darkness between the trees. Finally, the others noticed that she wasn’t playing with them. One of the other little cubs, Frank, came up to her, nudging her in the shoulder.

Dare you to go in there,” he said.

They dared each other to do things all the time.

“Dare you to race to that tree and back.”

Dare you to steal that pie from the farmer’s window.”

Dare you to poke Grandpa.”

Frank hadn’t actually expected Franny to take this one, but it was what she’d been waiting for. She took one last look at him before darting into the woods.

She had to know what was in there. She had to know who was in there. She had to know if these foxes were as savage and evil as Mama had said.

She picked her way carefully between the trees, frightened and wary, feeling like danger lurked in every shadowed nook. Her body was tense.

And, before she knew it, the thing she’d been most frightened of happened.

Rawwrr!!”

A small, furry body slammed into her own, knocking her top over tail. By the time she landed, flat on her back, she’d had the breath knocked out of her. Still, she jumped up, hackles raised, and growled as fiercely as she could, which was, after all, not very fiercely. She was still a very small fox.

Jeeez. Relax, will ya?” the other, surprisingly small fox said. “I was only playing.”

Franny took a step back in surprise. This kit looked …. Well, it looked just like her, and her brothers and sisters and cousins.

Who’re you?” she asked.

Shouldn’t I be asking you that?” the other fox said. “After all, you’re in my woods.”

She supposed he was right.

I’m Franny,” she said.

The other fox approached her again, this time, it came right up close, and licked her on the nose.

Nice to meet ya, Franny,” he said. “I’m Danny.”

The two circled each other.

Finally, Franny spoke.

I thought you’d look different,” she said.

Different how?”

You know… wild.”

Wild?”

With bright red fur and sharp teeth,” she said.

Danny rolled his eyes.

My teeth are as sharp as yours,” he said. “I’ll promise you that.”

His fur was certainly the same. He didn’t look any different from any other fox she’d known. Maybe he was a little more annoying, but she suspected that was a personal trait.

They were both little foxes, of approximately the same age. And so they did as young things do, when they meet and spend time together – they spent their afternoon playing in the woods.

And when Franny left the woods, late in the afternoon, as the sun was just beginning to touch the treetops, she trotted out smugly to meet her companions, all of whom had been waiting, worried about her.

That night, when Grandfather Fox took his after-dinner nap, Franny decided to tell her Mama the happy news.

Mama,” she said. “I met one of them. They’re not bad at all.”

One of what?” Mama asked.

Mama was distracted and not paying very much attention, trying to scrub a particularly tough stuck-on bit off of a plate. But the next words caught her attention.

One of the forest foxes,” Franny said. “I played with him all afternoon. He was nice. And the forest foxes look just like us. They’re not crazy. They don’t have red fur or anything.”

Mama Fox’s mouth dropped open, and the plate she was holding fell, shattering on the floor.

Mama Fox grabbed Franny’s paw, forcing her into the living room, waking Grandfather from his nap. She forced Franny to tell her Grandfather everything that had happened.

Slowly, staring at the ground the whole time, Franny recited the entire story. She was unsure why Grandfather looked so worried. She didn’t know what she had done wrong. Or for that matter, what Danny had done.

When she finished her story, Grandfather didn’t stop to say anything. He got out of his easy chair with surprising speed, knocking Franny down and charging straight out of the burrow.

Franny let out a whimper. What had she done?

Grandfather Fox went from burrow to burrow, spreading the word and gathering the elders of the meadow community.

Franny watched as the council gathered in the center of the meadow, where Grandfather stood on the large central dirt mound, created for such occasions. There were foxes from every family there, looking oddly apprehensive.

He looked tall and dignified, Franny thought, but he also looked scared. Franny hopped around the outskirts of the crowd, trying to get a good view of Grandfather, and trying to hear what he was saying. She couldn’t hear very clearly from where she was, but she did catch a few snippets.

Grandfather was telling the story of what had happened in the forest that day. Or at least, Franny thought he was… It didn’t sound much like what she’d told him. In this version, the evil forest fox lured little Franny into the woods. In this version, he didn’t just tumble into her, but viciously attacked her. And in this version, he was about five times bigger than Franny, a full-grown fox hurting a poor, little kit.

Every time he said something untrue, Franny tried to shout over him, to correct him – to fix this. And every time, the adults hushed her, cuffing her around the ears and telling her to pipe down while the adults talked about important things.

Eventually, the adults began shouting, loudly proclaiming that they wouldn’t let evil forest foxes corrupt their sweet, innocent babies. They shouted that they wouldn’t let these foreigners invade their territory and destroy their way of life. They yelled about tradition and the importance of family, and how nothing mattered to these wicked invaders.

Franny slunk home with her tail between her legs, knowing that somehow, she had caused this, and desperately wishing that she could stop it.

The following day, Franny watched as Grandfather gathered a group of strong, young foxes. They sharpened their claws and gathered the sharpest sticks they could find. And they marched into the forest at sunrise. Franny could see the early morning light, ruby-red, glinting off of her Grandfather’s good eye, highlighting the fear and rage on his face as he marched.

Hours later, they came limping out of the forest, scratched and wounded, bleeding. Some of them had broken limbs.

Franny cried into the evening, listening as the other foxes discussed the savages in the forest, and the oncoming battle.

The next day, as the sun rose, the forest foxes counter-attacked. The foxes of the meadow were ready for them, standing stoic, with sharpened claws and teeth and twigs.

Franny hid in the burrow, occasionally lifting her little face to see the adult foxes in their dangerous dance, slashing at each other, stabbing and tearing into each other with their teeth.

She sobbed, crying out of sorrow, out of the utterly unjust way of the world, out of the cruelty creatures are capable of wreaking upon each other. She cried and cried, tears wetting her white-and-orange fur.

Not very far away, on the opposite end of the meadow, the farmer’s daughter looked out of the window.

“Come here, Dad!” she called. “Take a look at this! The foxes are playing together!”

She gave a little giggle and pressed her palm against the glass of the window before turning to look at her Dad.

“Aren’t they cute?” she asked.

******

I so much wish that we lived in a post-nationalist world. I wish that we lived in a society where who you are and what you do and what you think matters so much more than where you come from or what you look like.

We’ve got a long way to go. Here’s hoping we get there eventually.

 

Writing Prompt:

patriotism
fox
battle

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:
http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

 

 

 

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August 30, 2017

I’m quite tired. I suppose this is the kind of thing that happens when I’m tired. Or maybe I’ve just quacked up… heh.

Anyhow, here you go, without further ado:

There are many different flavors of silence, and most of them are unpleasant. A contemptible silence leaves a bitter taste in your mouth, like the aftermath of drinking bad coffee, when the flavor has coated your tongue and no amount of water seems to flush it away.

However, a contemptible silence is preferable to an empty one. An empty silence, completely devoid of emotion, feels like disappointment. It tastes like loss. Like the memory of the most delicious thing you could have had. The thing that you missed out on and will always regret.

And this, the silence that filled the office, broken only by the insistent shushing of the air conditioner and the occasional clickety-clack of typing, was an empty silence. It was the sound of a group of people, as one, typing without thought, moving without emotion or purpose, getting up to retrieve a piece of paper from the printer only to return to their seats, weighed down with the heaviness of the day, every passing minute a pebble dropped onto the growing pile they carried.

She sat at her computer, eyes staring at the large monitor before her, and watched the blinking cursor dumbly.

Yes

No

N/A

37

She’d been checking the same boxes, typing the same numbers over and over, until they blurred together in her mind like a reel of newsprint, black-and-white digits floating behind her eyes. She typed the address one more time and allowed herself to sit for a few moments, face propped against her palm, glaring at the dreaded screen.

One more file.

Just get through one more file.

She’d been pushing herself through them all day, like a swimmer doing laps. Well, more like a swimmer who hates swimming. She forced her body through the water, and pushed herself each time her head bobbed up into the chlorine-saturated air for a gasping breath.

One.

More.

Lap.

Just like that.

One.

More.

File.

She reached for the next one. The last one in the stack. The folder was such a bright yellow that it almost hurt to look at. The files were wrapped in brightly colored folders, as if to make up for the blandness of everything else surrounding them.

She reached for it, and she put it back. Just for a moment. She’d get to it in a minute. She would. She just… wanted a minute. She sat with her cheek pressed into her palm and watched the never-ending, blinking cursor again. And just for that moment, she let her already half-closed eyes slide completely shut.

“You’re still working on these?”

Her boss’s loud voice broke through her little break. It wasn’t quite yelling, but… Oh, let’s just be honest. It was yelling.

“I thought you’d have these done hours ago! What on earth is taking so damn long?”

He was a short, portly man with yellowy-gray hair that he ran his fingers through whenever he was nervous, inadvertently puffing it up like a crown of feathers around his balding head. It looked like that now, as he reached for her last remaining file, holding it in front of her nose menacingly.

“This is an important job,” he half-shouted. “And if you’re not going to be responsible and committed to your tasks then – ”

Quaaaack! Quaaaack! Qua-Quaaack!

She blinked rapid-fire, as the papers he’d held went flying, drifting through the air. A moment later, they were followed by feathers.

The man was a duck.

It was not some sort of new insult.

The man had suddenly morphed into a giant, yellow duck.

And his white, downy under-feathers swiftly followed the paperwork, filling the air with a floating whiteness that covered the previously clean floor like snow, as he quacked and flapped his huge wings. The breeze created by the flapping only added to the disarray, sending little tornadoes of feathers whirling around the room and –

Slam.

She jumped, eyes springing open and refocusing, as she tried to discreetly wipe a bit of drool off of her lower lip.

She looked at the huge new stack of files on her desk, which her boss had clearly just plopped there, while she sat half-snoozing, and then looked back up at him, wide-eyed.

He grinned and shrugged, only slightly apologetic for adding to her workload.

“It looked like you were down to your last few files,” he said. “So I thought I’d bring you some more to keep you busy.”

He turned to walk out, then thought better of it, as he popped his head back into her office, his yellowish corona glowing slightly in the fluorescent office light.

“By the way,” he said. “I meant to tell you good job. No one’s ever gotten through files that quickly.”

He gave her a quick smile.

“I appreciate your effort,” he said. “Keep up the good work.”

She sighed, picked up the formerly-last file, and began again, cocooned once again in the silence, which now felt a little less empty.

July 11, 2017

 

 

 

You could tell a lot about people from their shoes. He didn’t suppose he really had a choice, seeing as shoes were all he ever saw. He could’ve looked up, probably. But it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth trying to make eye contact with people who were so vigorously looking away that they might strain something. It wasn’t worth it, for the few times when people actually met his gaze, with pity or anger or hatred. He’d seen hatred more than he’d like to think about, but pity was bad enough.

He also didn’t look up, admittedly, because he was tired. And hungry. And he was enough of both that the mere act of lifting his head was an effort that he did not want to expend. So he kept his eyes on the ground. And he watched the shoes as they walked by.

Shoes could tell you a lot about people. Maybe that wasn’t exactly true. But they told him enough. He didn’t need to know much. He only needed to know two things, in fact: which people would hurt him or harass him or yell at him to get off of his lazy ass and get a job (not that he minded the yelling, but if that happened, the police would likely get on his case and he’d have to move to the next block), and who might actually help him. Money or food. Money was, admittedly, better. But he wouldn’t reject food, either, especially not as hungry as he was now.

Heels, he had learned, were bad. Their wearers rarely gave him anything, only clicked by on the sidewalk, always in a hurry, even when they were visibly in pain. But heels usually didn’t yell at him, so he supposed they weren’t all that bad. He’d be most likely to get something from ballet flats or sneakers. Although sneakers were also pretty likely to yell at him or throw things, so they weren’t entirely good, either.

The worst were the sleek, black shoes – the ones men wore to work. Loafers or lace-ups, or even the super-shiny ones men wore for ‘special events’ – they were all the worst. At best, they would ignore him. But if he was going to get shouted at or lectured, the source was most likely a pair of black, narrow-toed shoes, like little crocodiles swimming along the sidewalk.

He had learned to shrink a little more as they came by, trying not to be noticed.

So he wasn’t particularly worried when a pair of pointy-toed black high heels click-clacked their way up to him. A hand reached down and he found a sandwich laid gently in his lap. It was new, still in the triangle of plastic that grocery stores sell sandwiches in. Turkey, looked like. He bet if he checked it, the thing wouldn’t even be expired. A bottle of water followed the sandwich. He could feel the weight of it against his leg.

“Here you go,” a young, female voice said.

He still didn’t look up. Old habits die hard, especially when there are good reasons for them in the first place.

“Thank you,” he muttered, trying to make it just loud enough for the woman to hear.

“You’re welcome,” she said quietly.

Maybe he’d been wrong. At least, he’d been wrong about the heels. No high heels had ever given him anything before, but maybe he’d underestimated them, somehow? Maybe things were about to change?

He watched as this particular pair wobbled away. She was, he noticed, none too steady in them. She walked a few steps, and he winced as he saw the shoe slip sideways in a crack on the sidewalk, tipping her to the side. Her ankle bent in an awkward way and she nearly went down, but caught herself just in time, straightening up and walking on, as though she’d only just attempted an unsuccessful dance move.

He chuckled as she walked on, watching her wobble with every step. He wondered if she’d be as generous in a few months time. Or in a few years time.

Or maybe she’d just switch to flats.

 

 

Writing Prompt:

compassion

sandwich

shoes

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

Take 3 nouns

July 8, 2017

 

Not sure about this one. It’s a little off-color, I suppose. But it’s the sort of thing that happens when I start writing late at night:

 

 

There is nothing quite so comforting as stew for dinner. Of course, that’s an easy thought to think when you haven’t got anything to make stew with. The old woman gazed around her tiny kitchen.

There was the stewpot, hanging neat and clean on the wall. The fireplace had logs aplenty, as if waiting for her to put the stew on. And a few sad carrots and onions waited, wilting on the table. There were a few stale, old slices of bread ossifying in the cupboard. And there were assorted spices, hanging dry among the rafters of the little shack, teasing her nose with their scents, almost as if they knew she had no way to use them.

She sighed. You do what you can with what you have. Dinner, she supposed, would be a bit of hard bread, with a bit of hard cheese, if she could beg some from the neighbors.

Unless… unless the boy could bring something home from the forest? A rabbit, perhaps? Rabbit stew would be delicious. Hell, she’d even settle for a squirrel.

But he wouldn’t. The boy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a slingshot. But that wasn’t the issue. Not really. The thing was that he wouldn’t. The boy wouldn’t hurt animals at all. And he certainly couldn’t bring himself to shoot one.

It hadn’t been a problem when his Mama and Papa had been alive. His Papa, her own son, had done the hunting. And the carpentry. And whatever else needed doing. He’d sold off the extra in the village – whatever toy he’d carved or shelf he’d made from spare wood. And there had always been enough. His Mama had done the sewing and the mending and taken in laundry when the occasion called for it.

Things had been good, when they’d been alive. But a few winters back a fever had swept through the little village, taking with it her son and daughter-in-law, and a dozen others besides.

And she was stuck with the boy.

That wasn’t fair.

She shouldn’t say she was stuck with him – would never say it out loud, lest he hear her. She loved the child, after all. But life with him wasn’t exactly easy.

She sighed and went back to counting her carrots, somehow hoping there were more of them than there’d been the last time. Maybe the boy would bring back some wild mushrooms or berries. It would be better than nothing, anyhow.

The carrots seemed to wilt further beneath her gaze. She decided to look away from them, just in case it really was her gaze causing the damage – just in time to see the boy, breathless, run through the door, slamming it shut behind him.

Except he wasn’t alone.

Running in with him, tail beating madly against the boy’s leg, was a large brown hunting dog.

“William!”

That was the boy’s name. She rarely had cause to use it. Actually, she rarely had need to call him anything at all – usually he was the only one within earshot anyhow. But when she did use it, it emerged angry and pitched, like a teapot whistle.

“Will-yum!” she said again, in her angry teapot squeak. “What have you done?”

It took the boy a few moments to catch his breath, but after that, they came spilling out, tumbling one over the other.

“I wuz in the woods, see? An’ there wuz this man huntin’ with th’ dog. And he looked cross an’ I wuz abou’ to come up and ask ‘im if I could help ‘im an’ … an’ he starts kickin’ at his dog! And the poor sweet little feller wuz just a-takin’ it. An’ … an’ I couldn’ help it. I felt so bad for the poor thing. So I grabbed ‘im an’ I ran. I just… I just couldn’ leave th’ dog with that awful man, y’know?”

She wasn’t sure she believed the whole story. There were some details she’d be sure to suss out later. But the part about taking the dog away because the man was beating it… She believed that rightly enough. Poor thing was skin and bones. But it was friendly enough. She bent to take a closer look and it licked her face.

She scrunched her nose, wiping away the dog drool with the corner of her apron.

“And the man just let you take it?”

She stood, hands on him, and stared him down.

“No…..” he scuffed a worn boot against the floor. “I called th’ dog and he just came to me, see? And then I ran, but…. I think he’s followin’ me.”

Well, crud and crustaceans.

“Go,” she said, the tips of her lips turned downward, bringing out the wrinkles in her face.

“Go?”

William looked up at her. Surely, his own grandmother wouldn’t kick him out of the house over this?

She sighed.

“Go hide out by the well and I’ll come get you when it’s safe to come back.”

They slipped out the back door, no doubt trampling over her small patch of garden. Not that it mattered. Hardly anything ever grew there anyway.

Crud and crustaceans.

What was she going to do now?

Surely, the man would find her little shack. It was the one nearest the woods. And the boy wasn’t so fast as to get more than a minute or two head start.

Sure, the dog didn’t belong to William. But now, it belonged to him more than it did to anyone else. And she’d as soon cut off her own pinky finger than give that dog back to the man who had abused it.

But it turned out that she didn’t have very much time for thought.

The banging on the door broke through any thoughts she might have been having.

Plastering on her brightest smile, she opened the door.

“Where is he?”

The man was large, tall as well as broad, with a mop of blonde hair and a respectable-sized beer belly. Immediately, her estimation of him shrank even further. She didn’t mind a man who ate well. But a man who ate well and kept a skinny, sad-looking dog like the one she’d just seen – she didn’t fancy those at all.

She eased the door open farther and dropped the smile, replacing it with a confused look.

“Who?”

“The boy!” he practically roared in her face. “The dratted, wretched boy who stole my hound!”

“Your hound?”

“Yes, my hound! Keep up, you stupid woman.”

“Beg pardon, sir,” she said. “But how does a boy manage to steal a hound?”

The man seemed unsure if she was mocking him, but either way, anger seemed to be the appropriate response.

“I was hunting in the woods and the little idiot stole my dog!”

“I see.”

The look she gave him begged further explanation, or perhaps he understood that he wasn’t getting inside without it, because he continued.

“My hound had led me farther astray in these woods than I’d meant to go. I’d meant to hunt the woods around the inn, but the damn fool dog led me miles astray… And perhaps I got a little upset, with the dog, you understand. And so, out of anger, I may have kicked the thing.”

“You kicked the dog for leading you astray?”

He glared at her.

“And that little thief ran out of the trees, scooped the dog up and ran away with it. I saw him come this way. I want my dog back.”

The last sounded almost like a threat.

“The only boy hereabouts is my grandson,” she told him. “I’ve yet to see him today and I’ve no idea when he’ll be coming back.”

“Then I’ll wait,” the man said, shoving his way through the door and into the little house, as if expecting to see the boy cowering behind his grandmother’s skirts.

The man tramped in, leaving muddy footprints in a broad path from the door to the table, where he levered his heft into one of the two chairs there.

He sat scowling in silence for a moment.

“Haven’t you got anything to eat?” he asked.

“Not much, sir.”

“I haven’t eaten since I left the inn this morning,” he told her. “I’ll take whatever you’ve got.”

She sighed deeply and reached into the cupboard, pulling out a piece of bread. She chopped up a carrot and handed the food to him, almost like a peace offering.

“This?” he said. “This is all? This isn’t food. This belongs in a trash heap.”

He threw the pieces of carrot on the floor, but deigned to gnaw on the bread, seeing as he had nothing else.

The old woman examined him, sitting in her kitchen like a giant lump of coal. She hadn’t liked the look of him when she’d opened her door. And she didn’t like the look of him any better now.

Horrid man. A man who beat his dog wouldn’t hesitate to treat his wife or children the same way, she knew. Nor would he particularly differentiate between the three.

She forced the smile back onto her face before speaking again.

“Would you like some tea?”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “It’s about time you offered.”

She bustled around the little house, taking a pinch of dried herb here, breaking off a twig there, filled the kettle with water and put it on the small hearth.

Within a few minutes the man held a mug of tea, his large hands making the mug look somehow tiny.

He took a few sips, pronouncing it ‘not bad.’ And then a few more. Soon enough, the whole mug had been drunk.

She said nothing, merely stood watching him as he sat, eyes half-closed and sleepy with the warm drink in him.

She did nothing, merely stepping out of the way as the man tumbled off the chair and lay still, dozing on the floor.

She wiped her hands against her apron as she gazed down at him, lying prone, chest rising and falling in sleep. He’d better be asleep. The herbs she’d slipped into his tea were the same ones, in the same quantities, as she used to put a horse to sleep before a surgery.

Walking around him with small, measured steps, she examined him carefully.

A slow smile spread across her face.

She pulled her sharpest knife out of the drawer and wiped it across her apron.

You do what you can with what you have.

Maybe there would be stew for dinner tonight, after all.

 

Writing Prompt:

justice

stew

village

 

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

June 2, 2017

Murray the moth watched the butterflies.

Murray always watched the butterflies.

It was his favorite thing to do. He loved their beautiful colors – the reds and blues and purples all shimmering together in the sunlight. He loved watching the butterflies more than anything else – more than the taste of nectar. More than the warm feeling of sunlight on his own wings.

But today was special. Today, you see, was the day of the great butterfly parade. It was a grand day. One day each spring, the butterflies lined up and flew, twirling and whirling and showing off their colors, around the whole garden, like a floating garland in the sky.

They couldn’t have picked a lovelier day for it. The sun shone bright on the green leaves and gilded the flowers in light.

The flowers were quite pretty, Murray thought, but the butterflies were beautiful.

Murray loved watching the butterfly parade. He loved the colors and he loved the way the sunlight almost made the butterflies glow.

But more than anything, he wanted to be a part of it. It had always been his dream … And maybe, he thought, today the dream could come true.

It was almost time for the parade to begin… Finally, in the last few moments, Murray screwed up his courage. He flew over to the butterflies. He tried to swallow his nerves as he watched them, sunning themselves, getting ready to fly.

“Can I….”

At first, he couldn’t make himself finish the question. But this was important. How would he ever get what he wanted if he didn’t ask? He tried again, raising his voice just a little bit louder.

“Can I join in the parade?” he asked.

I cannot describe for you, dear reader, the sound of butterflies laughing. As beautiful as butterflies are, their laughter is no pretty thing. The sound is high-pitched and raucous and – if I am to be honest, dear reader – a good deal like a squeal.

And that is the sound that poor Murray was subjected to.

“Of course you can’t join us,” the butterflies laughed, their voices chiming together in one high-pitched chorus.

“W-why not?” he asked, voice quivering.

“Who would want to look at an ugly little moth like you?” they chirped.

The question answered itself, he supposed.

Nobody.

Nobody wanted to look at him.

All the time he’d been watching the butterflies, it hadn’t occurred to him to look at himself. He was, he realized, a bit plain. His gray wings were nothing like their brilliant red and blue and pink and purple ones.

He supposed, quite sadly, that he really was ugly. His antennae drooped as he flew away, allowing the butterflies to make their final preparations in peace. Not, he thought grudgingly, that they could get any prettier.

Murray did not join the parade. But he could not help following behind it. He trailed a small distance behind the last beautiful butterfly, watching as they performed their intricate twirling dance, filling the air with color and beauty.

He gulped down his tears and tried to watch – tried to enjoy the performance. He was so set on this effort, trying to fight his own tears, dear reader, that he did not notice as droplets began to fall.

Fat raindrops fell, much to the butterflies’ dismay, slowly at first, but swiftly turning into a heavy spring downpour.

Oddly, the sun still shone, illuminating the rain so that it looked like drops of light were falling from the sky.

Murray did not notice the rain until the butterflies started disappearing, ducking beneath leaves and landing on trees. Butterflies, you see, cannot fly with wet wings. They raised their voices in panic, squeaking and chirping their alarm as they hid.

Murray did not quite realize that he was alone in the sky until the last butterfly had hidden, tucked safely out of the rain.

Murray was astounded… He was all by himself.

What is a moth to do when he’s all alone in the sky?

Murray did the only thing he could think of – he danced.

He whirled and twirled and spun through the rain, his gray wings gleaming with silvery iridescence as the raindrops fell.

Murray was not a butterfly. Murray was a moth. And his moth’s wings, light and slick with oil, allowed the rain to slide right off. And so Murray gleamed and glowed, shimmering as he soared and dipped and swayed through the sun-shower.

There was no butterfly parade that day.

But Murray, all on his own, outshone the beauty of the butterflies, dancing through the rain.

A moth cannot be a butterfly. A moth is just a moth. But even a moth can shine.

 

Writing Prompt:

pride

butterfly

moth

 

Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

Innermost thoughts of a ghost

Hello,

I was thinking the other day, of a book I read for school, a long, long time ago. Much longer than it feels like. Actually, if I recall correctly, I read it twice: once for a high school class and again for another class in college. More because I was a good kid and felt the need to refresh my memory than because I’d actually enjoyed reading the book in the first place. Anyhow, I was thinking about this book, in which the protagonist never really gets to speak for herself. All the reader gets is people talking about her, conveying her words through memories made misty by time. And to be quite honest, they’re not people who really liked her very much in the first place, at least if I remember the book right.

Anyhow, I thought it was only fair to give her a shot at speaking for herself, even if it’s only a small one. I could be wrong…. but I took a chance anyway. Those of you who have read the book should recognize this. Those who haven’t will just have to be confused.

Here goes:

 

It is strange, to me, how a ghost can occupy a home so much more thoroughly than its living occupants. Not that Heathcliff is a ghost. Indeed, I am certain that he is hale and strong and healthy, wherever he is. It is only my memories and thoughts of him that keep him here with me. People would, if they knew what I was thinking, tell me that he is the next thing to a brother to me and that I should not think of him so.

But I’ve never liked people very much.

Therefore I am disinclined to share my thoughts with them, much less value their opinions of those thoughts. Heathcliff is no more my brother than the mouse that lives under the stairs is my cousin. We may have dwelt beneath the same roof, but he was never a brother to me.
I think of him often. Daily, even. More so than I think of my husband. My husband, were you to ask, feels a good deal more to me like a brother than Heathcliff does, or indeed than my own brother does. For at least my husband has cared for me, has tried to take care of me, as much as he could. Our relations, when we had them, upon the occasion of our marriage, felt to me much like the peckings of a curious and well-intentioned bird….
Regardless of the bird’s intentions, the experience cannot help but be uncomfortable and thoroughly unpleasant.

And then the bird wonders why one does not invite it back into one’s bed, as though one were desirous of being pecked often, and with great alacrity. I shudder at the thought. I have feigned illness, more often than I ought to have done, to avoid such peckings. Perhaps I have not feigned it, for more such experiences would inevitably have produced an illness of the mind, if not of the body.

I imagine an evening with Heathcliff would be entirely different. No diffident pecking. I can only imagine the feeling of safety in the circle of his arms. Safety such as I have not felt since he left. I long for him in ways I have never longed for my pale shadow of a husband, who tiptoes around me, as if I am a delicate tulip and he fears one stray step will cause me to shed my petals and fall to pieces.

Heathcliff would not baby me so. He would shake me and tell me to come back to myself, with no regard whatsoever for my petals. Perhaps that is what I need.

Perhaps my petals could do with a bit of a breeze.

But my husband is certainly not the man to do it, if such a dandy as he can even be called a man.

Heathcliff haunts our home as surely as any true spirit. My thoughts of him spill from my heart, filling all of the cold, empty spaces around me, as I wish he was here to fill the spaces, with his heat and passion. I wonder if Edgar feels it. I suspect he does, but there is nothing he can do about it.

What can he do?

Forbid me to think?

A smile curls my lips as I imagine Edgar storming into my bedroom and forbidding me to ever think of Heathcliff again. I bite back a laugh.

This is his home. It will always be Edgar’s home, no matter how long I dwell in it. He can forbid me many things. He can take my food, my blankets, my clothes, my books. But he cannot take my mind. My thoughts will always be my own.

I smile, comfortable in myself, if not in this horrid, drafty old place. I wrap myself tighter in the blanket, press closer to the window, and think of Heathcliff.

Historical Fiction Challenge #2

Hello,

This is another story I wrote for WNYC’s historical fiction challenge (and really, my least historically accurate one. I know I got some stuff wrong… hopefully you’ll forgive me for the sake of entertainment value). Please see the previous post for a longer explanation. The historical challenge itself is located here:

http://www.wnyc.org/story/historical-fiction-challenge/

Here’s the story:

The cold March wind smelled like fish. Actually, the summer wind smelled like fish, too. So did the fall wind and the winter wind. It was what you got when you lived by the docks. Everything always smelled like fish. Usually tasted like it, too.

He sat at the kitchen table, kicking against the wood bars of the chair with legs that were still too short to properly reach the floor. His Mama buzzed around the kitchen like normal and the radio droned in the background, rambling something about fruits and vegetables. He daren’t change the station. Mama maybe flitting around the kitchen, but she was catching ever word, and he’d sooner wait for her program to be over than risk a smack.

The lady on the radio was blathering something… saying something about what fruits and vegetables were available and not rationed. He didn’t catch all of it.

Anise, artichokes, onions, spinach, celery knobs, oranges, grapefruit and apples.

Apples. Gosh. He was so sick of apples he could just spew. But he knew there would be more apples on the table later. There were always apples.

He wrinkled his nose at his Mama’s back, as she was now rinsing something in the sink. He didn’t want any of it. Onions and spinach. Blech. He didn’t dare ask what they’d have for supper. Some sort of stew, no doubt. No matter what she bought, Mama always turned it into some kind of stew.

He didn’t want to think about it too hard.

Luckily, he wouldn’t have to witness the culinary tragedy about to occur. No sooner had she switched off the radio than Mama was shunting him out the door, practically sticking his feet into his boots for him, shoving his arms into the sleeves of his jacket and telling him to go play. He would not, he knew, be welcome at home any time before supper.

He clattered down the many, many stairs to the bottom, like a marble, all noise and color, ricocheting down.

Sitting on the concrete stoop, face resting on his hand, which in turn, rested on his knee, his thoughts drifted to food again, as just about any boy’s thoughts will do, given enough time.

Onions and spinach and oranges.

He let out a sigh. It was the kind of heavy sigh only produced by unfulfilled desire. Only this time, the desire was well nigh impossible and therefore, all the more tempting.

What he really wanted – what he really, really, really wanted – was …. chocolate.

Fat chance of that happening. His mama would no sooner bring home a piece of chocolate than she would come home wearing her shoes on her head.

He giggled at the idea of mama wearing shoes on her head. At least that would be funny, even if he couldn’t have chocolate.

There are some desires, dear reader, that are produced by acute familiarity. They are the result of knowledge – of having had a thing, and no longer having access said thing. You miss them in the way that you miss strawberries in winter. The way you miss the ocean when you’re stuck in Omaha in December. The way you miss someone you love when they’ve gone very, very far away.

He did not miss chocolate in this way.

No – the saliva currently filling his mouth was not brought on by acute, fond remembrance. His knowledge of chocolate was hazy – a small taste of it, once or twice, when he was very, very small. Not, mind you, that he was so very much bigger now. But time stretches in odd ways when you haven’t spent very much of it on this earth. And to him, that one taste of chocolate when he was small felt so very, very long ago. It was before they’d come to America. Long before they’d made the trip across the ocean that filled his days with the smell of salt and fish.

He remembered a sweetness, he thought, and something melting on his tongue, although he couldn’t quite put it into words, if you’d asked him.

A bar of chocolate. A whole bar… all to himself, that was the dream. He conjured the image in his mind. He stood up, stuck his hands into his pockets and started walking. What else is there to do when there’s no one around to play with?

He knew it wasn’t possible. Nobody had chocolate. Or at least, nobody he knew. Not with the government’s sugar rations. Mama had explained it. The government was taking away some of the sugar, so that nobody had more than anybody else, and so that there was enough for the soldiers. Nobody had more than anybody else, he knew, but that was mostly because nobody had any.

He bet the soldiers had chocolate. He made a face.

Mama would tell him that they deserved it, because they were fighting to protect the country. He guessed they did deserve it.

But did they have to hog all of it? Why couldn’t he have just a little piece? The soldiers could have the rest.

He walked and walked, dreaming of chocolate and letting his short legs take him wherever they wanted to go.

It wasn’t long until the salt wind slapped him in the face, turning his cheeks a ruddy pink in short order. He was where he inevitably always ended up – at the docks. He watched as the men hauled one big wooden crate after another onto the big ship.

There were all kinds of ships carrying all kinds of things at the docks, but he knew this one was special. He’d seen those kinds of crates before. And he knew where they were going.

Those crates on those ships were going all the way across the ocean. They were the rations for the soldiers fighting in the war. And he’d bet that some of them had chocolate in them.

He licked his lips. If only he could get his hands on just one bar…. Surely, the soldiers wouldn’t miss one bar, would they?

He watched, hypnotized, as they loaded crate after crate, the same men lifting, grabbing, hauling, in the same familiar rhythm they always fell into.

He didn’t know how long he’d been watching when one of them called out that it was break time, but he watched as they put down the crates and sauntered off, to eat whatever food they’d brought and smoke a few cigarettes, probably, if they had any. Tobacco, he knew, was rationed too.

But they left the crates. Left them just lying there on the docks.

Nobody would steal anything, would they? Those things were so heavy nobody could lift them, even if they wanted to. And who would steal from the brave American soldiers, anyhow?

Did he dare look closer? Did he dare see what was in those crates?

I think you know the answer, reader. I wouldn’t be telling this story if he didn’t.

He crept slowly up to the crates that were just sitting there, tip-toeing, even though no one was watching. No one called out for him to stop or shouted at him.

He walked up and lay his hand on one of the crates, the wood rough against his fingertips. He squinted at the contents of the crate and his heart started to pound faster…. “U.S. ARMY FIELD RATION D” the little white packs read. It looked… a little bit… Well, it looked like bars of chocolate. He licked his lips and looked closer at the white packs, staring at the ingredients list.

Ingredients:
Chocolate, Sugar, Skim Milk Powder, Cocoa Fat, Oat Flour, Artificial Flavoring

He found it!! He found the chocolate!!

He licked his lips again.

But how was he supposed to get to it?

The chocolate was in the crate and he was very much outside of the crate.

Could he lift the lid?

He gave it a little push, testing it. The thing was nailed shut. But…. he wriggled his fingers in under the rough, wooden lid, no doubt giving himself a hand full of splinters. But he persisted, slipping small fingers into crevice between the nailed-on lid and the crate – and it budged.

The nail wasn’t pounded in as tightly as it ought to have been and the cover gave – just a little. But just a little was just enough for a small hand to reach in and pull out just one ration of chocolate.

He didn’t know how long it had been since the men had left – it felt like an hour. It was probably only a few minutes, but he couldn’t risk being caught with his treasure. He ran for all he was worth, through the alleys and around corners, until he was in yet another dark, slimey alleyway….

Pressing his back to the wall, he craned his head forward, curling his body around his treasure as if to protect it. Eager, be-splintered fingers tore through the packaging to reveal something, solid, smooth and dark brown.

Chocolate. This was definitely chocolate.

Almost drooling with anticipation, he took a bite…. Or at least, he tried to. The brown brick was so hard that his teeth wouldn’t penetrate. He darn near chipped a tooth on the thing. More gingerly, he tried again. Ouch. No luck.

With a deep breath, he decided to try a more patient approach – he would not be denied his treasure. He brought it up to his mouth and began delicately scraping away at it with his two front teeth. Finally, some success.

He savored the first tiny curls on his tongue. Then a few more. Then a few more.

Now he could really taste it.

He smiled – and darn near spit it out.

This stuff was disgusting. Chalky and gritty and bitter. Blech.

He smacked his lips, wishing he had something to wash the bitter taste out of his mouth with.

He threw the bar away, chucking it as far into the alley as he could. He wanted as far away from that gosh darn awful thing as possible.

If that was chocolate, he thought, the soldiers could keep it.

 

This story was written based on the first writing prompt.

 

Historical Fiction Challenge #1

Throughout the month of February, WNYC held a historical fiction challenge, with a deadline of March 13th. Given our current toddler-in-chief’s tendencies towards… well, lying every chance he gets… they thought it’d be a good idea to attempt some good ol’ (relatively) historically accurate fiction, if only to create some contrast.

To that end, they provided three audio-prompts, taken from their own historical archives, as a basis and starting point for would-be story-tellers.

I decided to throw my hat into the ring on this, in spite of there being no cash prize (get on that, NPR!), and proved my devotion to deadlines and dedication to unprofitable things, by writing three stories (of dubious historical accuracy, I must admit).

Here is the link to the contest, with its accompanying historical prompts, lest you find yourself curious:

http://www.wnyc.org/story/historical-fiction-challenge/

It’s pretty interesting to listen to regardless of the contest – it’s strange to hear genuine voices so far in the past – a lady on the radio discussing what groceries are available (during rationing) in the early 1940s, a politian discussing the seamy and immoral nature of the then-red light district in the 1960s, and more.

And here is one of the stories:

 

“When the only sound in the empty street,

Is the heavy tread of the heavy feet

That belong to a lonesome cop

I open shop.”

She sang along to the opening of the song, her words stretching like taffy. Her voice was all right, but nobody sang it like Ella. She supposed that was because nobody but Ella was Ella, so she didn’t feel too bad. Still, she listened to the record every night. The song felt oddly appropriate, even if what she was selling was nothing like love.

“When the moon so long has been gazing down

On the wayward ways of this wayward town.

That her smile becomes a smirk,

I go to work.”

She’d keep listening to it until the record cracked. Or until she did, she thought, with a smirk of her own.

The moon, indeed. Some hotshot politician had been on the radio the other day, talking about how seamy and unseemly their little corner of the world was.

Ah. Now she remembered the words.

“Some nights the man in the moon blushes for shame when he sails over Times Square west of forty second street.”

She didn’t normally remember things like that word-for-word. It must’ve been something about his voice, because the words rang clear in her mind. Like a grumpy bell. The old frump didn’t know what he was talking about, at any rate.

The moon blushing for shame indeed. She harrumphed as she pulled the rollers out of her hair. She wasn’t sure why she bothered with the hair rollers or the lipstick or the rouge. The Johns didn’t seem to care what the hell she looked like, so she supposed it didn’t matter if she looked like hell. The ones who came here didn’t come for love or companionship. And to them, one girl was the same as another. But she couldn’t help but take some pride in her appearance.

If the moon was blushing, it wasn’t for shame. Whatever was happening in times square had been happening in dark corners for as long as people had walked the earth.

She shrugged. Geography didn’t hardly seem to matter.

And she was sure that jaded old moon had seen worse.

“Who-oooo will buy…. Who would like to saaaample my supply-ieeee.”

Now she was really getting into the swing of it.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

“Knock it off, will ya?”

She turned off the record and snickered a bit to herself. It sounded like Louise downstairs had already opened up shop for the night. It was funny to her somehow…. whores in a cathouse used the same method to shut up their neighbors as old ladies in slippers and housecoats did. Somehow, the good ol’ broom knocking against the ceiling was always reliable.

She wrinkled her nose as she applied rouge, looking at herself in the cracked, foggy mirror. She’d never liked the word cathouse. She didn’t like to think of women as cats. But whether or not women were cats, men were most definitely dogs. She’d known enough of them to be certain of that.

A loud male groan echoed up through the floorboards and she giggled as she buttoned her dress. Sounded like Louise’s first client of the night was something of a minute-man. She paused for a moment, mid-button, listening.

She didn’t make a habit of listening – she found she heard things she didn’t want to and often couldn’t forget – but thin walls and thin floors make for over-informed neighbors.

Something about that voice – that man’s voice – sounded familiar.

“Oh, God.”

The traditional religious appeal made itself heard – that same man’s voice, over and over again. She’d always found it funny, the way people appealed to God when they were sinning.

That voice…. Just… that voice.

“Oh, Goooood.”

The words were distended and stretched into a half-groan that time.

She finished buttoning her dress and smiled to herself.

The man in the moon might well have blushed at all of the goings-on in Times Square, she smirked, but she suspected the good ol’ Judge would be better off worrying about blushing faces a little closer to home.

 

 

This story was written with Prompt #2 in mind.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

 

 

Just as good things can come in small packages, so too, can evil ones. That’s what people never see coming. Evil is not a monster raging at your door. Nor is it a rising blackness, the storm that you can see for miles, spilling across the horizon like ink. It is not the devil on your doorstep, with a contract for you to sign in blood. It was not a beast, sharpening its claws, waiting for you to step outside.

No. Most frequently, it is none of those things. It is the tiny snake, winding its way beneath your door. The sting of a sharp, bright blade, so slim as to be nearly invisible – merely a flash of silver, before it slits your throat. It’s the drop of poison in a glass of sweet wine.

It’s in the pocket of a small, orange-hued man who sits on top of a hill. One so buffoonish, no one saw past his simpering smile and his shouted insults. After all, who would choose such a clown?

You don’t always see the end coming. It is not the green, grassy knoll waiting for you at the end of a long, sunny day. Sometimes, it’s the chasm that yawns broadly beneath your feet, swallowing you in a darkness so complete that you forget the feeling of the sun on your skin.

It is an end that you can never see from the beginning. Before the road bends. Before the skies open. Before your heart breaks.

******

You think your heart is breaking when your youngest child wants to leave you. You understand that it is not you that she is leaving behind – or at least that she does not mean to leave you behind.

But she will. She is leaving home. And so she is leaving you, forever.

You don’t believe her when she tells you that she wants to go far across the sea. Not at first. You don’t want to believe her when she tells you that she will never come back. Your little Mary would never leave you, would she? Not the little girl that you rocked in your arms, smiling down at that sweet face.

Not the little girl you gave your name to. The one you gave your time to, and your patience. And ultimately, all of your heart.

Not your little Mary, Mary quite contrary, whose joyful voice rang out through the garden as she ran back to you with dirt under her fingernails and mud smeared across her face.

She wouldn’t leave you, would she?

But you see the look on her face now. The look you’ve never seen before. And you hear the edge of iron in her voice. And you know her words are true. She is leaving.

And that is when the tears come. You do not beg her to stay, because you know that she will not. Could not. Not even to make you happy.

But she is happy. It is the same smile. The one that spread across her face when she ran to you as a child. That smile makes her cheeks glow now, as she stands on the docks with the salt wind blowing in her long dark hair.

Just a day shy of eighteen. You won’t celebrate her birthday with her. You’ll never celebrate her birthday with her again. Because in the minutes that are coming – many fewer minutes than you wish you had – she is going to climb the gangway onto the ship behind her.

And you’ll watch the wind tossing her long brown curls about like a tiny storm cloud, as she stands on the deck and waves goodbye to you.

But not now. Now, in these precious few minutes, which you which you could stretch into years, like pulling taffy – now, you say goodbye.

You’re trying to hold back the tears in your eyes, repressing them with a force of will. You don’t want to cry in front of her. You don’t want her last memory of you to be the image of you crying. But a few tears slide down your cheeks before you can stop them.

You tell her you love her. You tell her you’ll miss her. You tell her to take care of herself. You tell her to write. All of these words are true. None of them are enough.

And finally, you pull it out of your pocket.

Your Grandmother gave it to you when you were a child, so long ago it doesn’t bear thinking about now. You remember how big it looked against your tiny palm. A silver circle. Like the moon, you thought.

It is tiny now, as you pull it out of your pocket. It, too, is not enough. But it is all you have.

It’s silver. The engraving, once boldly etched, has worn down, smoothed by many fingers, as it has been passed from grandmother to granddaughter, aunt to niece, sister to sister and mother to child. So many hands have held it for comfort in so many pockets over so many years.

The silver still shines bright, but the engraving is nearly smoothed over, almost unreadable, even if you could read the language it was etched in, which you can’t.

Neither could your grandmother. But she gave it to you, anyway, the same way her mother had given it to her.

So you press into Mary’s hand, telling her to keep it safe. Telling her to wind it every evening.

You hope it will bring her luck. You hope its quiet ticking will bring her comfort. And you hope that when she looks at it, when she feels that small silver circle in her pocket, that she thinks of you, and your love for her, so far away.

You tell her you love her again. And then you release her hand. You watch as she climbs aboard the ship, no longer trying to hold back the tears in your eyes.

As you watch her ship pull away from the dock, you tell yourself that this must be what it feels like when your heart breaks. You feel that this will be the end. That this is your end. You cannot think of a life without her, because you never thought you would have to.

You think you must die of this broken heart. Nothing has ever hurt so much.

But it is not the end.

You will return home, and it will feel emptier without her.

But you will live. You will wake up in the morning and spend another day. And then another. There will be life without her. And there will be light.

There will even be joy. You will smile again. You will laugh again.

And when you do, you will hope that she is happy, with her new life across the sea.

******

It was the hardest thing you’d ever done. You weren’t sure you could do it. On the road to Glasgow, there was a part of you that couldn’t believe it was happening.

It wouldn’t happen, would it?

Surely, it would just turn out to be some cosmic joke? And the joke would be on you, when Mama and Papa turned around and took you right back home.

But they didn’t turn around.

And as you stand on the docks, watching Mama try her hardest not to cry, you feel the lump in your throat. You feel your resolve start to crumble. You lock your knees to hold yourself in place, so that you won’t tumble forward and wrap your arms around her, the way you did when you were little.

You try to look into her eyes, to memorize her face, knowing that you will never see it again. You try to listen to her words, but most of them are taken by the roar of the ocean, so close and so noisy it feels like a lion at your back, just waiting to swallow you up.

You cannot hear most of her words, but they do not matter. You know she loves you. You know she will miss you. You know you are breaking her heart.

You remind yourself that you wanted this. You wanted a new life. You wanted adventure. You wanted to live somewhere …. Somewhere each face wouldn’t be as familiar as an old fairy tale. You wanted away from the little village. Away from Scotland. Away from home.

You didn’t want away from her, but there’s no way you can explain that to her now. At least, no way you can explain it to her without bursting into tears. And you don’t want to cry in front of her. Not now. You don’t want her last image of you to be your blubbering face, red and splotchy with tears.

You strengthen your resolve and you stand up straight, clenching your hands into fists at your side, until she takes your hand and presses the small silver pocket watch into your palm.

You don’t look at it. You’ll have plenty of time to look at it later, to examine its delicate whorls and intricate engraving. To wonder what it means as the ship is tossed around on a stormy sea. As your stomach churns and you wonder why you ever wanted this in the first place.

There will be plenty of time later.

You thank her. You tell her you love her. You kiss her cheek before you leave. You do not throw your arms around her, the way you want to do, because you know you might not let go.

You give her a final smile, hoping it looks more convincing than it feels. And you walk away, keeping your back straight and tall. You don’t look back as you climb aboard the ship. You keep your eyes forward, because you know you can’t stand to watch her face as you walk away from her.

She blurs into the crowd as the ship pulls away from the dock. Or maybe it’s your tears that blur the view. You’re never sure which, but you’re grateful anyway.

America is what you hoped it would be. Or some of it, anyway. Most of the time, it’s good enough.

The streets aren’t paved with gold. There are no shining marble towers. You shrug it off, supposing it was only childish imagination that made you fancy there might be.

There are sky scrapers, though. Tall buildings that rise to stab the sky. Higher than you ever imagined. Home is not home anymore. Home is a tiny apartment that you come back to, after hours of work. A shoe box of a place where you go only to rest.

Work is hard. Harder than you thought it would be. Cleaning other people’s houses is a special sort of suffering, one you never thought you’d go through.

But, of course, life is always harder than you thought it would be.

And there is music. And dancing. There are parties and dresses and staying out until dizzying hours of the evening, until you can see the golden halo of the next day framed against the sky.

And every evening, no matter how late you come home, no matter what happened that day, or how tired you are, you pull that tiny silver circle out of your pocket. You wind your mother’s pocket watch. You remember her. And you think of a home that isn’t home anymore.

Time slips by so much more quickly than we mean it to. And soon, that boy you danced with at a party one night becomes the man you love. And when that man asks you to marry him, you say yes.

A few more years go by and suddenly the boy you married has a lot more money than you ever thought possible, and so do you. Suddenly, you’re richer than you ever imagined.

Work is a memory. Now there are people who clean your home, as you used to clean other people’s. There are people to make your food and scrub your toilets and do your laundry. Anything is possible.

You could pave the streets in gold, if you wanted, to match your childhood dreams of America. You could raise huge golden towers – enormous monuments to yourself. To your husband. To your family. Buildings emblazoned with your name. Your new name. You could do that, if you wanted to. But you don’t want to. None of that matters anymore.

Now there are more important things. You have children. First a little girl. Then, a couple of years after, a baby boy. And another girl. And two more boys.

Your children will never want for anything. You give them anything they ask for – they never have to feel hunger, or cold, or sadness, or pain. Not if you can help it.

And now you know what it must have felt like for your mother to let you go – to release you into the world, knowing she would never see you again. You can imagine the pain she must have felt. And every night, you wind the pocket watch and think of the woman you left behind so many years ago.

Your children want for nothing. They are cared for. And they are loved. You love them all. They know it. But, if pressed, in your heart of hearts, you know you love one little boy just a little more than the others.

He’s your sunshine. He’s your golden-haired little angel. And you know he always will be, no matter how much he grows up, or how far he grows away from you.

He has everything. Everything that money could buy and a great many things that it couldn’t.

There is nothing that you can give him that he doesn’t already have. He’s grown now. He’s an adult. He can buy anything he wants. And he seems to want so much. There’s nothing more you can give him…

But there is, perhaps, one thing.

You call him one day and ask him to come see you. He’s very busy, of course. But he has to make time to see his mother, doesn’t he? You suppose he does, and you try not to act disappointed when he reschedules again and again.

But finally, he comes. You sit on the sofa and you smile at him. Your golden boy. He is child as foolish as he is loved, although you love him too much to see it.

You pour the tea. And you pull the little silver watch out of your pocket. You press it into his palm, much the way your mother did for you, so long ago.

You tell him that you love him. You tell him that your mother gave it to you. And that her grandmother gave it to her. You tell him that you want him to have it. That you hope it brings him the joy and luck it has brought you. You tell him to keep it safe. You tell him to wind it every day.

And you hope that when he winds it, he will think of you.

The boy, who is much too old to be a boy, takes it, covering it with his small hands and shoving it into a suit jacket pocket. Some boys never become men. They merely grow older in a childish selfishness, believing only in the importance of their own whims and wants. They are never men. They are merely boys in aging shells, with a rottenness of spirit that only grows more unbecoming as it ages.

Your boy is one of these, although you will never know it.

But he takes the watch, not because it means something to him, but because it means something to you.

And in his pocket it has stayed, ticking quietly along, measuring out the moments of his life with each soft tick of its tiny gears.

*****

The Oval Office is quiet for once. He should appreciate it – for one blessed moment, no one yelling at him about something he’s said or done.

“PR nightmare” – how much he’d give to never hear those damn words again.

He sighs, running his fingers through his carrot-colored hair, before remembering why he doesn’t do that anymore – the stuff feels like stiff cotton candy. He supposes he’s lucky it hasn’t all fallen out, with all of the stress he’s been under.

For another moment, he enjoys the silence, and then he realizes that it isn’t silence. That quiet, nearly imperceptible tick-tick-tick follows him wherever he goes, like a heartbeat.

He pulls the watch out of his pocket, running short, stubby fingers across its smooth surface. There’s something comforting about holding it. He remembers the day his mother gave it to him. She hoped it would bring him luck. He supposes that it has, given where he is now.

A fleeting cloud of guilt crosses his face and then its gone – absolved by his own vain pomposity. She told him to wind it every day, he remembers. He hasn’t. He can’t honestly remember the last time he wound the thing.

Oh, well. No harm done. It doesn’t look any the worse for wear, anyhow. And it is still ticking, so what was the point in winding the thing? Now that he thinks of it, the ticking is a good deal slower than he remembered.

He shrugs, sliding the thing back into his pocket. He supposes he’ll have someone wind it for him at some point…. He’s much too important now to worry about mundane things like winding silly old pocket watches.

He is the most important man in the country. He puffs up his chest and repeats the thought in his head. He is the most important man in the country. No. On the planet. That sounds fantastic. Why should the most important man on the planet worry about a stupid old watch?

He allows the ticking to fade into the background, as he has allowed so many things to fade – honesty and loyalty and kindness. None of them matter.

He doesn’t bother to listen as the ticking grows slower and fainter. Doesn’t know why he should wind it. Doesn’t know why his mother bothered doing such a silly thing every night of her life. He never bothered asking her.

Although if he had, she wouldn’t have known the answer. Neither would her mother have known. The story, unlike the watch, has been lost through the generations.

But as the watch winds down, so too does this fragile world.

This is the beginning of the end. Or perhaps it is the end of the beginning.

He wiggles his stubby fingers and begins to type out another tweet.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Prompt:

deceit

tower

clock

Writing Prompt Courtesy of:

http://writingexercises.co.uk/take-three-nouns.php

 

This story was, in (small) part, inspired by a quite fantastic story by Roald Dahl. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend doing so now.  You can find a pdf version of it here:

https://letras.cabaladada.org/letras/genesis_catastrophe.pdf