Confessional [Flash Fiction]

When I married my first fiancee, she and I were only nineteen. We were engaged for the twelve hours it took us to hitchhike from our town all the way to Vegas, where we got married in one of those cheesy wedding chapels. I don’t remember its name, but I’m sure it had the word “Love” in the title, which was apt. We were in love, all right. We were passionately, tremendously, glowingly in love, positive that everybody could see it on our faces. We knew we were going to be together for the rest of our life.

She was also pregnant.

When she first told me, I didn’t even have to think about it. I just asked her to marry me, right there, on the spot, with no ring, no nothing. We were in bed together, and it was dark because we’d shut the heavy curtains in her room so we could sleep late, and because my legs were entangled with hers and her back was to me, I couldn’t even kneel when I proposed. Not my finest moment. But she said “Yes,” anyway, very quietly, and I could hear her smiling.

It was only then, after she’d agreed, that I realized what it actually meant. I’ve heard other people talk about how having babies young means you can’t go to college, but neither of us were heading there, anyway, so I wasn’t worried about that. I actually heard from an old mutual friend a while back that she got a Masters degree in something or other a couple years ago, so maybe she did want to go to school and just never told me about it. When I think about it, there’s a lot I didn’t really know about her. We were nineteen. We didn’t really know how to talk to each other about the big things yet, I guess.

But I knew exactly where I was headed, and that was nowhere. I’d always worked at my parents’ diner, busing tables when I was kid, taking orders when I was in high school, learning how to do the cooking on the longer weekends when the staff had time to teach me. Now that high school was finished, I was working there full time, doing whatever needed doing. My mom was showing me how to do some of the bookkeeping, but I didn’t have the head for the math – “Just like your father,” she’d say, huffing and pushing me half-off my chair with her too-strong arms – so I learned from my father what it meant to be a manager. He taught me how to hire and fire people, how to order the supply we needed, and how to try not to get too cocky, because some days were so busy that he needed to be in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, or out there on he floor, taking orders, and he didn’t get paid any overtime for any of it. “Heck,” he used to say, “I don’t even get a salary, technically. My salary is the profits, and the profits come from good workers, and good workers like working for humble bosses.”

So what was I so afraid of, lying in bed, making plans with my girlfriend-turned-fiancee about how to lie to her folks into giving us the pickup truck for the day so we could go to Vegas and get married? I was afraid of missing out. I couldn’t tell you what I meant, exactly. I just knew, somewhere deep in my bones, that I shouldn’t be getting married when I was still getting pimples on my back that I couldn’t figure out how to get rid of. The thought of holding a baby in a few months threw me into a kind of panic, too. The future stopped for me there. Suddenly, I had no future seven months from that day when I married her. There was white, blank space after that day, space that I couldn’t even imagine.

Later, my second fiancee told me that maybe it was a sign. That maybe I knew what was going to happen, exactly seven months from that day, right on the nose. Then she laughed at herself and said she didn’t believe in things like that. I told her that I did, because I do, but that it wasn’t a sign. If it had been, I would have listened to it. I don’t ignore signs. This was no sign – it was just the terror of a teenager who barely knows what a baby looks like, let alone is ready to hold one and call it his own.

I’ve heard of plenty of people being happy when their baby was born. I’ve never heard anyone admit to feeling what I felt the day my baby was born dead.

Mad Mary [Flash Fiction]

“Either stay, and do as I say, or go.”

I went. Many would have stayed, and been called fools for it. In my small village, I’d seen the same thing happen many a time, and always the women would throw contemptuous glances at their peer who wore long sleeves in summer and tried to spread powder over her face and neck so the bruises wouldn’t show.

And yet, now that I’m alone, walking along the path that leads from the village to the bigger city that lies somewhere by the sea, I wonder who is the real fool. I went because I couldn’t stand him anymore – not his smell, or his heaving, sweaty weight groaning above me, or his fists in my stomach when I burned the crust of the bread. Mother surely didn’t help. She told me to take it and do as my husband said. She thought that I must have been doing something wrong for him to become so angry. I tried to tell her that the devil shown out of his eyes, but she told me I was mad.

So I went. I left everything. There was no one in the village who would help me, for it wasn’t only Mother who thought I was mad. I’d been called Mad Maiden Mary all the way up the aisle, and only when I was good and married in front of God, the Church and everybody did they stop. And then only because I wasn’t a maiden anymore.

It’s my eyes. They’re large, and one is blue while the other is green. The green one used to be blue until an accident that Mother never explains happened when I was just a babe. I gather that something stuck in my eye and changed all the colors around and made it that bright green that throws everyone off. I also talk to myself, but only because there never seems to be anyone else to talk to, and I guess that God made me chatty by nature.

I walk on, my dress growing ragged at the bottom because I keep stepping on it. I don’t know how far the seashore is, and I don’t know what waits for me there. But it has to be better than what I left behind.

Ten Years Later

She stood on the tiny balcony and clutched a cup of coffee in her hand. She listened to the early morning traffic go by and watched the sky go from dark to light gray. Shivering, she clutched the shawl closer to her.

“Why aren’t you wearing a sweatshirt?” demanded a voice. He came up behind her and blew hot air onto her neck. She leaned back and closed her eyes, nuzzling into his embrace as his arms circled her waist.

“The cold feels nice,” she murmured. She felt him grin behind her. He’d always loved the cold. Opening her eyes, a thought that had been tugging at her mind shaped itself on her lips. “What are we doing here?”

“Living the dream,” he said, raising his eyebrows. They both laughed. Corny phrases were so fun to use when there was no risk of being taken seriously. “Are you regretting it or something?” he asked, worried. His self-esteem, usually substantial enough not to need to ask questions like this, wavered.

“I’m ecstatic,” she answered, turning to him. “Let’s go unpack.”

“Ungh,” he moaned. “Do we have to? I can live out of the suitcases for a while…”

“Yes, we have to,” she laughed, slapping his midriff playfully. “And later we’ll take a walk to the bank to open the account, and we’ll get some more groceries.”

“Fine, fine, fine,” he huffed playfully. As she bent over a box and began ripping at it energetically, he sighed and thought of where he’d been ten years earlier. He hadn’t been happy then, but all had come well in the end.

____OR_____

She sat on the lanai. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was perfect. Some might say it was boring, always so perfect, but she loved it. The laptop on her knees was small, comfy and full of prose – just the way she liked it. She spread her fingers, getting ready to take that incredibly exhilarating plunge and actually start writing when she froze. A hummingbird, beautifully colored and almost shining in the sunlight, was only a foot away, hovering next to the big flowerpot that she referred to as her “pet.”

Hands still hovering in the air, much like the tiny bird, she watched, mesmerized, scared to take the slightest move and scare the thing away. A blast of music came up suddenly from the cellphone beside her, and both she and the hummingbird jumped. “Oh, birdie, come back!” she called under her breath as she picked the phone up. The bird took no notice. Looking at the screen as she flicked the phone open, she smiled.

“Hey, you,” she said. “You scared away a hummingbird. It was right next to me.” She waited, listened, and laughed. “That’s so like you,” she grinned to herself. “How’s the Missus? And the kid?” She smiled softly as the deep voice on the other end spoke. “I’m so glad,” she said warmly. “Listen, I’m just about to start writing. Can I call you this evening? Mhm. Mhm. Sure. Okay, talk to you then. Love you, bee-eff-eff,” she added cheekily. “Bye now!”

She clicked off, and watched her flourishing garden. She thought about where she’d been ten years ago. She was glad that things had come well in the end.

____OR_____

He was in Brazil, and she in Tasmania.

____OR_____

Both fictional characters never were, had never been, would never be.

 

Prisonville

Whoosh

A car drives by, so close to me that I feel the wind it makes buffet me as it blows past. I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking. The road’s deserted now that the headlights of the car are gone and its noise is fading away. I miss it a little. I’d tracked that solitary car’s progress from three streets away when it started up in its driveway. There isn’t a whole lot of town here, and you learn pretty quickly to tell where the cars are coming from. I don’t know why, but sound has always traveled particularly far in this place; maybe it’s all the clean mountain air.

Nobody moves here for any reason except the stupid air. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my parents, or my friends’ parents, gush about how clean the dratted air up here is. I’ve heard my husband’s family go on about it, and my friends and my coworkers as well. Everyone loves the air, the air, the air. The clean, mountain air.

Me? I hate this air. I find it oppressive. I feel like it’s closing in on me. Once every couple of months I get a panic attack, and Dr. Greene has to come and inject something in my arm until I calm down. My husband doesn’t get it, but maybe that’s because I’ve never explained it to him. Why should I? He’d laugh, tell me I’m crazy, ruffle my hair in that way I hate and then forget all about me again.

I pass my house again. I’ve been around the block five times already and I don’t feel any warmer than I did when I started. It’s past midnight, and I can’t sleep. As usual. My husband’s still out at the bowling alley with his buddies – well, that’s what he tells me, anyway. I think he’s elsewhere, but I haven’t ever bothered to check. I honestly don’t care about him enough. It’s not like I’ve ever had a relationship with him. We were married two years ago. I’ve known him all my life, of course, just like I know everyone else in this town. If you think your town is small, try to go house by house throughout all of it and see if you know everyone’s names. Can you do that? I can.

I read a book once – or maybe it was a movie, I’m not sure – whatever it was, I remember this place called Stepford, where all the women were exactly the same, programmed to be perfect. That’s what my town is like – everyone’s exactly the same: perfectly nice, perfectly decent, perfectly fair, perfectly dull. Both the women and the men. The only ones who are different are the kids, and they all grow out of it. I don’t know why I’m different, but I just know that I am.

I think I’m the only one in living memory who ever tried to leave this place. But I couldn’t.

Flash Fiction Thursday: Lyara

Disclaimer: I’m tired, I’m pressured, I did my best. Sometimes it feels as if whatever I write becomes trite, boring, repetitive and unoriginal, like this piece probably is. Which is why I’m disclaiming: Tired, Pressured, with capital T and P.

Lyara was in the rose garden when it finally hit her. I’m to be married tomorrow. It didn’t seem real. How could it? She sat down heavily, not caring, for once, about the state her dress would be in once she got up from the damp earth. She could always make the stains go away, if she worked hard enough. Trying to breath slowly, she managed to sit up straight and arrange herself so that any observer who happened to be looking through the The’elem Manor’s windows would see a beautiful woman, sitting in the rose garden and taking in the glorious sunshine. Appearances were important, Lyara knew. Especially for her.

A black rose was just beginning to open at eye-level. She stretched out a hand to touch a soft black petal, stroking it softly until it opened completely, and wondered whether marriage would hold any tenderness. It wasn’t obvious. Not everyone managed to marry good men. Why, just a year ago, Moralla married a Viscount, a notable man of wealth and learning. But in her letters home, Lyara knew, she’d confessed to her sisters that the man was cruel to her, beat her, even did unspeakable things to her that she hadn’t dared to write down. Lyara had joined her friends, Moralla’s twin sisters, in reading over the letters and acting suitably horrified. But it didn’t strike her until just now that Moralla was actually suffering, all alone, with her husband.

But that won’t happen to me. Mama and Papa promised. He’s good-looking, kind and intelligent. They told me so. Tears rolled down her face as she contemplated the future. She understood her parents. She knew that she needed to marry fast, marry the first man who offered, marry before he found out… Her parents were incredibly ashamed, and Lyara couldn’t help but feel that they were right. Nobody wanted a sorceress in their household. She knew her talents were a disgrace. But now, when she contemplated needing to hide all her little quirks from an entirely new household staff as well as her new husband – what was his name? She couldn’t remember – it seemed overwhelming. Her parents didn’t notice anymore if a candle flickered into a full blown flame when Lyara entered a room, or when the dinner plates that had arrived cold from the kitchen became suddenly warm again.

She wasn’t sure she could do it. She wished, for the first time in her pampered, idle life, that she was poor as muck and common as weeds, because then her talents would be sought after, wanted, needed. She’d be revered, loved, looked-up to. She wouldn’t ever starve, for a sorceress never did, nor would she lack for firewood.

An idea was forming in Lyara’s mind. She was frightened of pursuing it, but tucked it into the corner of her worries, just in case the marriage business went horribly wrong.

Trance

It is night. I am alone. I am in my car. The time is 1:23 AM. My car is dark blue and no doubt looks black in the darkness of the night. There are no roadside lamps on this stretch of highway. I am utterly, completely and undoubtedly alone. The road stretches in front of my car. It seems to go on forever. I cannot see the end of it. All I see is the few feet in front of my car, where my headlights shine on the black asphalt and the white lines drawn on it, passing me by one by one.

My vision blurs as I try to count the white lines passing by on my right. One. Two. Three. Four. But no, they’re going to fast to count. I’m going to fast to count them. The speedometer shows me I’m going too fast. I slow down.

The radio in my car isn’t working. Way out here there is only a fizzle and crackle from any of the stations. My CD player is broken. The only noise I can hear is the sound of fast wheels on cold asphalt, and the sound of my own breathing. In and out. In and out.

The highway is taking me from one home to another. One home, the one I left, is broken, destroyed, a-shambles emotionally. My mouth curves into a wry grin before I can stop myself; after the confrontation tonight, it is a-shambles also physically. Not my problem anymore. I glance back, suddenly worried, but my suitcase is still in the back seat, holding every possession I own. The home I am going to is an old home, a half-remembered home, a home where I don’t know if I will be welcomed. The smile disappears. I was a disappointment. Surely I will not be welcomed. But there is no other place to go.

I jerk. I look at the clock on the dashboard. It is 3:44 AM. I cannot remember the last hour and a half. I’ve heard of this before. It’s called road-trance. Your body drives without you having to pay attention. Your mind sleeps and your body works on its own. Figures. That’s what the last four years of my life have been like, after all. Damn it all to hell. I keep driving. Maybe there will be something worthy at home. My old home, or rather, my renewed home.

Victoria’s Secret [Part III]

“…And then,” Debbie concluded, “he said he knew I didn’t aprove of his art and that I was ashamed of him. Since then, it’s been hard convincing him to see me at all.”

“But it sounds to me like you’re proud of him!” Victoria exclaimed. She’d just listened to Debbie describing her son’s rollercoaster-style life for the last ten minutes, and Debbie’s eyes had shown in the faint glow of the cellphone screen with a deep love and admiration of her scattered boy.

“I am. I think his sculptures are beautiful. He thinks I’m full of it, though,” Debbie’s eyes filled again with tears. “I don’t know how to convince him differently. But,” she collected herself. “I do the best I can, as often as I can. I hope he’ll understand about today.”

Victoria nodded somberly. The man in the corner of the elevator gave a sudden phlegm-based cough and both Victoria and Debbie jumped. They’d almost forgotten he was there; he’d been utterly silent while Debbie spoke. Now, Debbie looked up at him with a half smile.

“Rob, sit down, Hun,” She said. “They’ll get us out of here eventually, but there’s no use standing like a lump in the corner. It isn’t going to make anything go any faster.” Victoria smiled inwardly at the motherly tone that Debbie used with this stout, stuffy little man. Rob wore an impeccable suit, obviously expensive, in charcoal grey, and his hair, so obviously oiled, had a little spike standing up out of it, as if he’d begun to run his hand through it before remembering that he mustn’t ruin his exquisite hairstyle.

“No, thank you, Debra, I’d rather stand,” he answered. Despite his look of calm snootiness, his voice sounded strained. His hands were stuffed in his pockets, and Victoria could tell that he was playing with something in his right hand, twisting something around and around in the pocket.

“What have you got there – Rob, is it?” she asked.

“It’s Robert. And it’s nothing.”

“Seems like something,” Victoria smiled at him. She had a way of smiling which she’d used on her younger brother when they were young – she still remembered how to do it. It had made her brother tremble with fear and then submission, and it did the same thing to Mr. It’s-Robert. He looked at her strangely, not sure of what her smile meant, and broke eye contact. He took his hand out of his pocket and showed Victoria a smooth, round stone, the kind that’s abundant on riverbanks. It was, Victoria noted, the perfect skipping stone, because it was smooth and rather flat. But then Rob held it out and the light caught it, and she saw that the stone wasn’t grey, as she’d thought at first, but rather a deep green. Then she saw that through the green were thick veins of a very dark red.

“What is it?” she asked wonderingly. It was beautiful.

“It’s a bloodstone,” Rob answered. “It’s the birthstone for March, and it’s very rare to find such fine specimans as this one. My wife and I went to India for our second honeymoon, and she bought me this as a surprise. It’s actually a funny story – we’d been in the market, and this old man without a word of English tried to sell it to us…” Rob’s voice trailed off. Victoria stared at him in wonder. Here was a man who she would never guess would have gone to India. For a second honeymoon, no less! People only have second honeymoons if they’re married for a while, right? Her thoughts were in a whirl at the image of this stuffy, haughty little man galavanting around Indian markets.

Vicky! she chided herself. You mean thing. As if you know anything about people by looking at them… If the world worked quite so simply you’d never have gotten to where you are. So say something nice now, and close your mouth.

“It’s a beautiful stone,” she murmered.

“Yes,” Rob seemed about to smile but then rearranged his facial expression into a frown. “When will they come to get us the hell out of here?”

“Soon, Hun,” Debbie answered wearily, pulling a bottle of water out of her purse. It was really getting hot in the small space. “I hope. Want some water, folks?”