Things He Missed in Eight Years

IMG_20141106_084227Losing my virginity.

Falling in love with his best friend’s son.
Graduating high school.
Getting a big girl job.
Anorexia.
His son’s graduation.
Going to college.
Anorexia again.

Getting my heart broken,
though not for the first time.
Going to college
(for real this time).
College, college, acting, writing,
friends.
Coming out as bi.
My second girlfriend.
Oxford.
First publication. Second.
Literary award (shared).

His son’s ambitions,
to PhD and beyond.
His love, his happiness,
his cats.
His engagement.

Moving to New York.
Looking for work.
Writing. Writing.
Falling in love.
More cats.

His wife’s decision to move.

His retirement.

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.

Five Years

It’s been five years now. In this time I’ve done so much, gone through so much, experienced so many new things, met so many new people, been disappointed so many times, been elated so many times, smiled and laughed so many times, cried and despaired so many times, learned so much, forgotten so much…
And all without you there.

Five years is almost a quarter of my lifetime. How awful is that? There are so many conversations that we haven’t been able to have. Growing up, at some point I began to find it difficult to know what you would say or how you would respond to certain situations because we’d never spoken about such things before. But I try my best to imagine what you would have said, because your voice will forever be a part of my life.

Five years. That’s way too long.

Nothing’s Wrong [Short Story]

The fragrance of fresh bread woke Thomas up one morning. He leaped out of bed excitedly, knowing what the smell signified. It meant that Uncle had come for a visit.

Thomas was six years old, and he could tell, with the instinct that all young children share, that his father liked Uncle a lot, but that his mother didn’t, even though Uncle was her brother. Thomas didn’t know why his mother didn’t like Uncle, but he sensed that it had to do with Uncle being a baker. He thought that maybe bakers weren’t as good as bankers, which is what his mother was. Thomas thought that being a baker was much nicer; Uncle wore comfy clothes and always smelled good, whereas Thomas’s mother always complained about her pantyhose and put too much perfume on.

Uncle was tall and skinny, but this morning, when Thomas went downstairs, he thought that Uncle had become like Flat Stanley, the flat boy that they were reading about in school. The illusion passed, and Thomas realized that it was only that Uncle looked even thinner than usual. He looked gaunt, although Thomas didn’t know that word, and he looked worn out and weary, more words that Thomas didn’t really understand.

“Morning, Tom-Tom.”

“Hi! What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Drink your milk. Eat. We don’t want you to be late for school.” Thomas’s mother pushed a plate of eggs and a glass of milk at him without looking at Uncle at all. Then she swept right out of the room again, and Thomas and Uncle looked at each other as they hear Thomas’s parents yelling at each other upstairs. Uncle got up and checked on the bread in the oven. Whenever he came to visit, he’d let himself in very early and would bake fresh bread that would be ready for the family’s breakfast when they awoke.

“Here you go,” Uncle said, pulling the bread-pan out of the oven. He cut a thick, still steaming slice, and put it on Thomas’s plate. “Eat up.”

Thomas wasn’t going to give up on his question, though. “What’s wrong, Uncle?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Uncle smiled.

In the car on the way to school, Thomas asked his mother the same question. “Nothing,” she said. “Why? Has Uncle said anything?”

That evening, Thomas tried again. He went into the bathroom where his father was drying off after a shower and began to swing from side to side while holding the doorknob.

“Stop that, you’ll break it,” his father said, without much conviction. Thomas kept swinging.

“Daddy, what’s wrong?”

“Well. What did Mommy tell you?”

“Nothing.”

“And Uncle?”

“Nothing.”

“Oh dear. That must mean that whatever’s wrong, it’s a big deal. Listen, bub, you and I – we shouldn’t get involved, okay?”

“Okay,” Thomas said. But when he went to bed that night, he couldn’t help feeling scared by what his father had said. It sounded like his father didn’t know what was wrong either. If nobody knew what was wrong, then what would happen now? For the first time in months, Thomas had nightmares and wet the bed.

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.

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.

 

The Faeries Are Back

The faeries are back again. They say they’ve never been gone, but I’m sure that I haven’t seen them for more than five years. On my tenth birthday, I wished that they’d stop pestering me. I closed my eyes as hard as I could and blew out the candles in one go, thinking as hard as I could about my wish. It came true – the first and last of my birthday wishes to come true.

But I guess birthday wishes don’t hold forever. The faeries say I wasn’t specific enough. I didn’t say how long I wanted them to go away for. So they decided amongst themselves that five years is a good amount of time, and the went to bother someone else for a while. Well, like I said, they claim to have been here, but they just didn’t let me see them. They watched me while I slept, they say. How creepy is that?

Anyway, they’re back now, and they’re making my life even more complicated than it used to be. When I was really little, it was okay – everyone assumed that I was playing with my imaginary friends when I ran across the yard shrieking and batting my hands in the air. But when I grew up a little bit my mum started telling me to stop pretending. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t get dressed because there were faeries in my shoes. She’d tell me to stop pretending that I couldn’t take a bath because the faeries were playing in it. She thought I was making it all up. My dad didn’t believe me either, I could tell, but he didn’t get mad at me. He just got this tired look on his face and sighed a lot when I talked about the faeries.

When I was nine, my mum sent me to a psychologist. He was a really tall man, and I can’t remember his face well. I can remember his office though – it was full of plushies and board-games. More like bored-games, if you ask me. We always played Shoots and Ladders or Monopoly or something, and he would ask me about the faeries. I remember that I got really impatient with him, because he talked in this sort of slow babyish voice. I don’t think he was a really good psychologist, because my friend, Natalie, goes to one now since she’s bi-polar, and she says that she likes hers. I guess it depends, just like with teachers.

So on my tenth birthday I wished the faeries away. But now they’re back.

They don’t call themselves “faeries.” That’s just what I call them. I don’t know what they call themselves, but I don’t think it’s a name I can pronounce. They don’t speak in English amongst themselves, and when they talk to me they have funny accents. They don’t look like storybook faeries at all, but I guess when I was little I just thought that anything that could fly and talk was a faerie. They’re very small, each one about the length of my finger now, but they don’t look like little humans at all. They’re really skinny, almost like twigs really, and their bodies are furry, like animals. They’re all different colors, browns and whites and grays with patterns and stuff on them. When I was in an art class for a while when I was seven, I made a sculpture of them out of pipe-cleaners. They roared with laughter when I showed it to them. I chucked it in the bin.

That’s the other thing about my faeries. They’re not very nice. They laughed at me all the time, and they got me into terrible trouble. Once, when my mum and dad were out, they started playing with a bowl that my gran made for my mum and they ended up breaking it. My gran was a potter, quite famous really. My mum says I get my artistic talents from her. That was before she died in a mental hospital, screaming about wicked things coming to get her. My mum never let me see her, I was too little I guess. My big sister, Diane, got to see her though, and so that’s how I know about gran being in the loony bin. Mum always lied to me and told me that gran died of a heart attack. I had nightmares for weeks after gran died about her having a heart attack while she was in the loony bin in a straight-jacket. It was awful.

So yeah, the faeries aren’t nice. When gran died, they didn’t even try to cheer me up. They just told me to… what was it they said? Oh, yes, they told me to “keep my chinny up-up and get better grades, ya ninny!” They’re full of weird advice like that. On the one hand, they yell at me to do better at school, and on the other hand they always bothered me during exams, so I got bottom marks.

After they went away, things got loads better. But, like I said, now they’re back.

Groceries

You can learn a lot about people when you go the grocery store. Well, perhaps that’s not right. Seeing them shop doesn’t tell you a thing about their life, not really, except for their attitude in a grocery-store, surrounded by ads, products, sales and other people. But I like to invent lives for them, as I pretend not to watch them.

There’s the man who’s losing his patience with his two young sons. There isn’t a woman around, and I assume that this man has already started his spring vacation from the office but his wife is still working. That’s why he needs to take the boys, who are on their vacations too, shopping with him. The man is large, tall and broad with a beer-stomach hanging over his belt, and his two boys look to be between eight and ten years old. Both have straight brown hair, not cut shortly but allowed to grow around their ears, and round faces, rosy with the fun of shopping. They run between carts, duck under baskets and then run back to their dad, shouting suggestions. He snaps at them, but it does nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.

There are two women standing together at the cheap, bad quality clothing section. The clothes aren’t folded very well, and the shelves look a mess. Still, one of the women is holding up a shirt to the other one, and they seem to be deciding whether or not it’s worth it. I can almost hear their conversation, even though I have earphones on: Should I? No, I shouldn’t, right? Sure you should, look how cheap it is! But do you really think it’ll look good on me? Yeah, I do, but who cares – look how cheap it is!

At the checkout line, there’s a young man with curly brown hair and fuzz on his cheeks. He’s waiting patiently in line, which isn’t surprising, because he’s too occupied with a loud conversation he’s having with his cellphone. He smiles a lot and laughs, and I like to think he’s talking to a buddy, laughing about the antics they’re looking forward to experiencing during the coming weekend. He’s also looking around a lot, keeps turning around from his cart to gaze at the aisles. I think he might have met someone here a week ago, at around this hour, and that’s why he’s here again this week at the same time. He’s looking for her, this woman he laughed and chatted with and didn’t have the guts to ask out on a date last time.

In front of me, in my line, there are two women – they have to be mother and daughter, but they couldn’t look more different. The one who’s leaning on the cart is short, tiny, and ancient. Her hair has that bluish tinge to it and is thinning, and her hands look like a map, veins representing mountains or streams and the liver spots representing dwellings. Her daughter is middle-aged, probably around fifty or so, and is tall and skinny. Her face is lined, too, but from care or hurt rather than from age. She has sad eyes, even as she acts with great speed: taking things out of the cart, moving it to the other side of the register, starting to bag the items and putting them back in the cart, and paying her bill. She speaks familiarly to her mother, and even though her actions point to an efficiency and brisk character, there’s a subtle tinge of tragedy about her. Maybe a death of a loved one – husband, or maybe even a child.

And then, finally, it’s my turn at the register, and I mimic the sad woman’s efficiency, trying to get my things out of the way as fast as possible so I can get back home and out of the heat of this sunny March day.