Oh, Please Believe [Flash Fiction]

When Mother forbade me from going into her office, I was, of course, determined to go in there. I should have respected her privacy. I didn’t have the excuse of being a curious, nosy seven year-old anymore. I was married, thirty-two, and had a child of my own. But I was going through a bad divorce and I was living with her for the first time in over a decade, and I didn’t like the idea of not being allowed to go somewhere in the place that I once called home so naturally.

Mother and Father had moved into the house in the 60s, before I was born, and they never left. After I was five or so, Father stopped leaving for good. He was too heavy to go out much past the garden when I was a toddler, and by the time I was skipped up into first grade, he was only able to stand for a few minutes at a time and poke his head out the kitchen window to wave at me. I loved him for it, at the time. It took me a few years before I really understood how shameful it was to have a father who stayed inside all the time. I was proud of him, then, because I could boast of how often he played with me.

Our games were simple ones. I hid, and shouted out for me, moving from one easy chair to another, heaving and puffing. His sweat smelled of talcum powder. He was fastidiously clean. He was shy of his big underarm stains, even though I knew them so well that I used to put my forehead under them in the summer, when I was hot, and cool myself off. I would giggle and he would blush. He loved me, I think, even though he died before he ever really told me so. He didn’t talk very much. Most of his communication was accomplished through his eyes, which crinkled at the sides like his his favorite potato chip brand.

Mother talked too much, and when he died, she let him out of the house only long enough to be cremated. Then he was back, and she carried him around in a jar with her. She talked to him, and to me, sometimes getting us confused. It made me angry at him. I didn’t like being confused with a pewter jar full of dust. I peeked inside once, even though she told me not to, so I knew that he wasn’t in there really, despite what she always said.

Now, at thirty-two, I knew better. She hadn’t lied to me. I just hadn’t understood that my father wasn’t sitting in that jar like a genie in a bottle. A comforting thought, especially because the environment would have suited him – he wouldn’t have to move very much at all – but one that at my age I knew was stupid. I should have trusted her this time when she told me not to go into the study. I should have learned from past mistakes. I should have realized that I’d only be disappointed.

I waited until she went to her quilting class. She never carried Father around with her anymore. She’d bought a lot of new clothes and gone back to work when I started high school. She was better. That’s what she always said. Better. Like Father had made her sick. Maybe he did.

I made sure that Jonah was sleeping. Ever since leaving his father, he’d been sleeping badly, prone to nightmares. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get as much custody over him as I wanted, because I knew that he loved his dad and that it would be cruel to him – not to his dad – to separate them completely. I couldn’t hurt Jonah, even though I wanted to knife his father with a set of scalpels.

Opening the door to the study, I already knew that I was making a mistake. It wasn’t dramatic. It was anticlimactic. I really should have expected it when Mother had “thrown” Father’s favorite chair away, the last of the old possessions in the house, a few years ago. Of course, there it was, right there. I leaned on the door frame and sighed, disappointed. I was expecting a family of bears, or maybe some secret lover hidden away there. But a chair? An old chair.

The worst bit of it all was trying to figure out why Mother needed to hide from me that she’d ever loved Father. I didn’t understand it. I closed the door, decided never to ask, and ran to Jonah who had started crying, waking up out of a nightmare.

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Talking to a Chair

“Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy-Mommy!” The shouts got steadily louder, accompanied by what seemed like an elephant pounding along the second floor hallway and down the stairs. It was amazing that a six-year-old could make quite so much noise.

Greer took a deep breath, trying to keep her temper. The kitchen table was littered with receipts and she felt as if they were all ganging up on her, trying deliberately to bamboozle her into making another calculation mistake and needing to start all over again.

“Mommy!” Rebecca stood in the doorway, hands on her hips. “Didn’t you hear me?”

“I think they heard you in China.” Greer sighed and took off her reading glasses. They made her head ache. “What is it?”

“If you heard me, why didn’t you answer?” Becca shifted her weight to one leg and tapped the other foot. Greer fought down a laugh; it was a gesture her daughter must have picked up from her, and it looked precociously adorable. But Becca hated being laughed at and saw herself as a very grown-up little girl. Greer remembered, vaguely, that she too hadn’t liked the feeling of being just a kid and therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.

“Because I’m working on taxes and I need to concentrate. If you needed me, I knew you’d come down here and talk to me like a civilized person instead of shouting all over the house. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

Rebecca dropped the pose and took the chair opposite her mother. “I dreamed about Daddy.”

“Oh, Becca… Was it a nice dream?”

“No. But Daddy was in it. So it wasn’t only bad.”

“Was Daddy nice?”

“Yes. He hugged me.”

Greer played with a pen, needing something in her hands to stop her from reaching out to Becca, because she didn’t like being touched unless she initiated it. The therapist said that children could develop these kinds of aversions, and Greer knew she needed to respect her daughter’s boundaries, but it was so hard, sometimes, not to be able to hug her whenever she wanted and smell her usually messy hair and remember how once there had been another smell beside it that belonged to the body hugging the girl from the other side and making a Becca-sandwich.

“Can I help?” Becca asked, picking up a long, half rolled grocery receipt and pulling it tightly around her finger.

“Thanks, but no. Why don’t you bring your spelling book in here, though?”

“Okay.”

Greer didn’t believe in heaven, so she looked at the chair that he’d sat in during dinner every night and spoke to it instead of looking up. “I hope you can see her. She’s only six and she wants to help me do my taxes. I really hope you can see her right now. You’d love her more than ever.”

He’s in the Kitchen [Flash Fiction]

Who? Satan, that’s who. He’s a chum, a pal, you see, of my pop. Pop has him over round ’bout once a month, for beer and a chat. They yap their jaws like nobody’s business. They talk and talk and I lie abed like Pop told me to and try to listen, but I can never understand no words nohow. It gets so mighty hard to take, knowin’ the king of hell is in the room just across the hallway, but Pop says he made a deal and he’s gotta abide by it. Pop’s a man of his word, I know that. He’s never made me a promise he didn’t keep, and I know he won’t ever.
Lacy says that Satan once came and spoke to her but she’s a big liar and likes to make hersel’ seem big and important, that she does. She says that Satan gave her an offer, jus’ like he gave Pop, but she said no on account of bein’ too young. She said he should come back in five years and ask again. That was two years ago. Lacy is seventeen now, and I’m fifteen. I guess fifteen is the age Satan likes, cause tonight he comes and knocks on the door to my room.
“I haven’t seen you since you was in diapers,” says Satan, nodding his big head and smilin’ all kind-like. He ain’t so scary once you get used to him. Sure, his skin’s a little strange, and his horns take some gettin’ used to, but all-round he looks a mighty lot like Santa Clause, only in a fisherman’s gear and not a big red suit. He’s fat and jolly, is Satan.
“Yessir,” says I. I wait but he jus’ smiles down at me. He looks like he’s gettin’ taller every second. Pop says that can happen with him – he doesn’t look the same two seconds in a row.
“Gertie,” he says all solemn suddenly.
“Yessir?”
“I have a proposal for ya.”
“Sir?”
“The same one I made your pop all those long years ago.”
I guess Lacy wasn’t lying, and that’s a surprise right there. I think my mouth stays open too long, cause Satan puts a finger under my chin and closes it and says “Don’t want the flies getting in there, do ya?” I don’t know what to say, so I shut up for a while and think.
What have I got to lose? I’m short and ugly, Lacy got all our ma’s looks, and I ain’t brainy neither. Pop is good to me and I’m his favorite, that’s true, but nobody else in town takes much store by me. I think now that Pop maybe never made an effort with Lacy and me really cause he knew Satan would help us along by and by. I think of Sunday school and the old preacher-man who talks for hours and doesn’t say anything. And I think of the talks that Satan and Pop have. I hear ’em laughing a lot. It sounds kinda nice, the way they talk, and Pop always looks kind of young and smooth after Satan leaves.
So I stretch out my hand and tell Satan “Alrighty then. Shake on it.”

A Pleasant Surprise – A Writer’s Tale

I tell people that I write. Because I do. But I have a hard time calling myself a writer. I wouldn’t dream of telling anyone I was an author, either, even though I’m working on my third novel right now.

However, I just had one of the coolest writing experiences I’ve ever had, and one which I’m eager to remember in years to come. Which is why I’m writing a second blog post today, something I rarely, if ever, do. Ready? My tale might not be exciting to anyone who isn’t me, but here goes.

My current work in progress includes some six main characters. I wrote the first ten pages of it about a year ago, in this blog in fact [if you’re interested, search for “Mr. and Mrs. Adams,” “Amanda,” and “Heather.”] During my semester at Sarah Lawrence this year, I took a writing class, and began to write this novel in earnest.

About five months ago, I wrote a scene in which Amanda, one of my characters, is drunk and having a breakdown of sorts. She has never been drunk before, is introverted, is scared of her own passions and hides behind her instincts as a caregiver much of the time. As the listener, she can remain safe and closed off while still maintaining meaningful relationships with people she cares about.

Now, this scene I wrote so many months ago was, I knew, going to fit in only towards the very end of the novel. I haven’t looked at the scene in months, waiting for the right time to go back to it and insert it where I wanted it to go. The day before yesterday, I was writing the scene that I knew would directly precede it, in which Amanda’s friend makes her a drink, and Amanda, for the first time ever, decides to be reckless and takes it.

In the scene I wrote the other day, I had her friend making her a White Russian. The next scene I wrote was about other characters. Today, I wanted to put in the scene I’d written all those months ago, and so I scrolled to the very bottom of my file to reread it and see what I was going to have to change. And here’s the kicker. I’d written there that Amanda was drunk on “milky White Russians.”

!!!

I had NO IDEA that I’d specified in that scene what she’d been drinking! I didn’t remember AT ALL that I’d already had the idea of what I wanted her to be drunk on! When I’d written the scene a couple days ago, I’d decided to go for White Russians because I thought it was the kind of yummy alcoholic drink that her friend would mix in order to lure Amanda into drinking!

But it seems that Amanda told me ages ago that she wanted her first experience with alcohol to be with this particular drink. It seems that even her friend, a relatively minor side-character, knew in February already that she was going to make Amanda a White Russian for her first alcoholic beverage. It seems that I know my characters even better than I thought, or else that they’ve been driving me to write what they feel is the truth for them.

So. Maybe not the most exciting tale for anyone who hasn’t had the experience of their writing taking on a life of its own. But let me tell you, I’m going to be grinning about this revelation all day long.

EDIT: Another thing – in this same scene, written months ago, I’d mentioned homesickness for her mother. In a scene I wrote about a week ago, Amanda was missing her father and feeling homesick. So yeah, I think Amanda is really quite alive in my mind. Which is exciting.

Beauty Queen [Flash Fiction]

My name is Gwen. It’s a good, strong name. That’s what my pop always said. He said: Gwen, with a gee and a double-you, you’ve got nothing to be scared of in this world because the hardest thing for you will be learning how to spell your name with those big letters in it. I don’t know what my mama said because she skipped out on me and my pop when I was still real small. My pop always said she was the second prettiest gal in the world, after me. Then he would laugh and say: you had the best looking parents I’ve ever seen.

I guess he was right. I won all the beauty pageants when I was a kid, except for that one year when I was eight when I had to be in the hospital because I tripped and broke my head open. I don’t really remember it but my pop told me that I near broke it in two pieces just like an egg. Like the egg with kings and the horses, only my pop said that because I was the prettiest gal in the world we had the money to fix me up good. I still got a scar under my hair that I can feel. It’s all bumpy, and I kinda like it. I like having this one ugly thing on my head where no one, not even the meanest judges, can see it.

Henry used to tell me that I should be happy that I’m pretty. That was before he and Mick drove into a tree and got their drunk asses killed. I’m still mad at Henry for that, even though it was Mick who drove. I would have told Henry: don’t you get in the car with him, he’s drunk as a skunk. And maybe if it was me then Henry would have listened. But maybe not. My pop told me that there’s nothing I can do now except pray for their souls. But I don’t know if they need me to pray for them because if they died drunk then they must have stayed drunk in the next life too and those two pals had the best time when they were good and sloppy together. They could laugh at anything, even me when I let them and they were the only people who dared do that to my face so I liked it and I let them.

One thing that Henry never told me was that he thought I was pretty. He just said it as if I knew it, like it was the same thing as saying: the sky is blue like the ocean. All the others always kept telling me: do you know how pretty you are? But Henry didn’t because he knew that it didn’t matter to me one way or another if he thought I was pretty, just so the judges kept thinking so. Henry told me sometimes that I was smart, and I liked that best of all.

Alice in the Snow-Globe

Alice sat dejectedly in the window-seat and watched the snow swirl outside. She imagined that her house was the center of a snow-globe and that some little girl, quite like herself, was shaking it vigorously. She peered up out of the window and squinted into the white and gray sky, wondering if she could glimpse a bright blue eye, or maybe a brown or even green one, staring intently down. What would the big, snow-globe shaking girl do if she saw Alice inside the house? Maybe she’d be surprised enough to put the globe back down on a shelf.

Alice wished dearly  that it would stop snowing. She’d been outside all of the day before, wrapped up in a coat so snug that she could barely move in it. Despite the restriction of the padding all over her, she’d managed to build a snowman, and then, because he’d looked so lonely, she’d built him a friend. In the afternoon she’d played snow-fortresses with Charles, Mama-and-Papa’s friend. He’d also swirled her around and around, holding her arms, and she’d felt just like a snowflake that spun down in the cold air until landing lightly on the ground.

She lay on her back, curling her legs close to her chest so she could fit. She was getting big, too big for the little cushion-covered area next to the window, but she refused Mama’s many suggestions of “sitting in a chair properly like a lady,” and kept returning to her favorite haunt when lessons were over and Mama was still in bed, napping. She blew onto the glass and drew an outline of a cat with her little finger in the misty whiteness that had formed there. She stared at it for a while and wondered whether there would be chocolate to drink later because of the horrid weather. She rather hoped there would be, even though her oldest sister always complained that chocolate was heavy and would make her fat. The governess told her off for saying such things, and pointed out that in a winter like this they could all gain a few pounds, but Alice’s biggest sister only rolled her eyes and ignored her.

Stretching, Alice pulled herself up and out of the window-seat. She turned her back on the flurry and decided to walk to the library and ask Papa if she could have some chocolate. She wondered briefly why she wasn’t sick to her stomach from the way the little girl was shaking her house around inside her snow-globe; but her sister’s words flew into her mind at once. “Don’t be silly,” she told herself aloud, and stomped off in her white stocking feet to find Papa.

Flash Fiction – Mark

“Is it possible you just don’t know anything?” Mark barked, his voice pulled tight as a guitar string on the point of snapping. Beneath him, cowering, sat a twelve-year old girl. Her flaming red hair was fanned loose about her face and there was brilliant color in both of her cheeks.

“Daddy,” she whimpered. “Stop it. Please,” she begged.

“No! Not until you admit that I’m right! Gloria, look at me!” he demanded. His fists clenched at his sides, and the girl eyed them warily, her mind going to the bruise on her shoulder that had only just begun to turn yellow.

“Daddy, I-”

“Stop calling me that!” he roared.

“But-”

“I’M NOT YOUR DADDY!”

The girl’s face crumpled. She’d been doing this for months now, and it was getting to be too much for her to take. She remembered her mother telling her once that she needed to promise that she’d be good to Mark, that she’d help him get through the tough times. But it was hard, so hard, and she felt like a little girl. She wanted to curl up into her mother’s embrace and cry. She wanted to hear her favorite lullaby and then fall asleep, feeling safe and whole again.

“What?” Mark’s fists unclenched and his daughter risked peeking up at him. “What’s going on?” he asked. “Honey?” That whine, that fearful, childish note in his voice made the girl wince, but she got up slowly, leaning on the wall to help stable her shaking legs.

“Daddy?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, honey,” he said, reaching out a hand, his beautiful and familiar hand, to caress her cheek. “Did I do it again?”

“Daddy!” she cried and flung her arms around him. It was like this every time. She felt as if she were emerging from a bad dream. Mark hugged her back, but it wasn’t the embrace she remembered. It was weaker, frailer.

Dawn led him over to the couch and sat him down. She used to always sit on his knees, but now she settled beside him. He couldn’t take her weight easily anymore, and she knew it made him feel bad to try and fail to do so. “Do you want something to drink?” she asked quietly.

“Some water, please. Thanks, sweetie,” he smiled shakily, his head bobbing a little with the tremors that always took him when he was lucid. Dawn filled a glass in the kitchen with water, but changed her mind and poured it into a plastic cup. He’d broken a glass once before, and it was so hard to clean it up from the carpet. He didn’t seem to notice that she brought him one of the old green cups she used to drink in when she was a toddler, but drank greedily, reaching into his pockets for some pills.

“More?” she asked, reaching for the empty cup. He shook his head.

“Did I-” he paused and winced as he swallowed the pills. “What did I do?”

“You thought I was Mom again. And you were going to hit me…”

Mark’s eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry,” he murmured.

“Did you ever hit her?” Dawn asked. She kept her face icy cold, determined, once and for all.

“No, no, oh – darling, no!”

“Good.”

There was an uncomfortable silence. Dawn never knew what she should do. She knew that her father’s violence came from his confusion, from the utter displacement he felt when he got an attack. The doctor had said it was early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, but it looked to her as though her father was simply going mad. It was getting harder and harder to forgive him, to remember he was her father. It was a nightmare that never ended.

Mark watched his daughter. I’m losing her, he thought. She’ll be gone before I know it, and I won’t remember her anymore. The thought was more than he could bear. He burst into tears.