Relinquishment [Flash Fiction]

I abandoned my baby on the coast, the day the skies rained with fire and brimstone and God called the mighty wrath of hell upon me. I had the puling thing alone in the woods where only the birds and beasts could hear my screams of rage. I lose track of the hours that I lay there on rocks that I had coated with leaves. The leaves disintegrated beneath me because of my sweating and shivering. When it came out I didn’t clean it much, just gave it a rap or two on the back until it started crying and waiting for the next part that I’d been warned about. I didn’t feed it. It was my baby, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t. It did not belong to me and I had to give it back.
I left my baby on the beach where I had stolen the things to make it with. Back when I thought that it was the answer. But I learned differently. I learned with every rust specked nail that scaled me and turned me fish skinned. I made the baby out of curse words and spittle and the dust of murdered friends. I did all that. I did.
It is too late to repent. Either way I will die now and I long for the release with every bone that abandons my body in fatigue. But the baby which is not mine was to live a life. I despise it for what it has done to me. It disgusted me from the moment it stirred within me. I could not look upon its weak face and I will never know it if it ends up in Hell with me. But I know this – it was my responsibility and my mistake and I relinquish its life to another. I have done it enough harm. Let someone else choose to be cruel or kind.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Lily and Jasper [Flash Fiction]

Lily pushed her sunglasses down over her eyes and stretched. The summer sun was beginning to set, and the tree she’d been lying under would soon be at the wrong angle to give her shade. That was alright, though. Her skin was hardy enough to withstand the evening sun’s rays.
A hiccough made her look down. Jasper’s eyes, almost impossibly big in his small, chubby face, were inquiring. Lily was fascinated by the way he always seemed surprised. Every burp, every laugh, every awakening seemed entirely new to him and full of excitement.
“Is that enough tummy time?” Lily asked. “Hmm? What do you say, big guy?” Jasper hiccoughed again in answer. Lily smiled and lifted him up into her arms. She leaned sideways and dug around the big bag her mom had helped her organize, trying to find the bottle. She discovered it tucked sensibly in an outside flap where it couldn’t spill over into all the bibs, diapers and wet-wipes that weighed the bag down.
Fussing a little, Jasper eventually latched onto the rubber nipple and – of course – looked surprised at the liquid that he was sucking from it. Surprise turned to pleasure and he half-closed his eyes.
“You look just like me when you do that, you know? Just like me. We both love good food.” Lily had decided before he was born that she would talk to Jasper just like she talked to anyone else. She wouldn’t raise her voice even one note into the high-pitched tones that her mother and sister used. Her mother thought she was being pretentious, but Lily didn’t care. She was going to give Jasper what she’d given up when she’d discovered, six months in, that she was pregnant. She was going to give him the scholarship she couldn’t use yet, the love that her parents had only sporadically given her, and the respect he deserved from the moment he was born.
The only thing she couldn’t give him was a father, and she hoped that one day she’d manage to fix that.

Foundling

A baby lay on the wide rim of the fountain in the middle of the town square. It was sleeping quite peacefully, wrapped in tattered green blankets. It was impossible to tell its sex by looking at it, since the only visible part was its face, which was still a little scrunched and red. The baby couldn’t have been more then a day or two old, and Maude Leary was astonished that it was sleeping in such a precarious position, on such a cool evening.

Maude was a sweeper. She walked around town with an old-fashioned broom made with nice long bristles tied well with a metal wire, and swept the leaves from the middle of the sidewalk to the edges. She did this all day, every day, from five in the morning until five in the afternoon. She’d gotten the job when she was seventeen, and even with all the changes that had been made in town hall over the last few years, no one had had the heart to fire her, even though she was the only employee of her kind. Maude was sixty-three now, but she looked quite the same as she had when she’d boldly walked into the now defunct old town hall and requested a job. She was, perhaps, more lined than she’d been at seventeen, but she still had the same sandy hair, the same spattering of freckles over her nose and cheeks, and the same wiry figure. She still wore overalls day in and day out, with a different colored t-shirt for every day of the week.

Today was a Tuesday, so she was wearing her purple t-shirt. Because of the cool weather, she had a scarf wrapped around her neck, too. Her hip was cocked to one side as she leaned on the familiar broom and watched the baby sleep on. “Well, I’ll be,” she murmured to herself. The town square was empty in the quiet before everyone got out of work and rushed on home, and a bird was cheeping absentmindedly in the nearby tree, doing its duty to the setting sun.

Quite suddenly, the baby opened its eyes. Its eyes roved this way and that until it found Maude’s kind, slightly mischievous, face. Her wide eyes met the baby’s and in a moment they seemed to understand each other perfectly. Maude took three steps and closed the gap between them. She saw now that there was a note pinned to the green cloth the silent baby was wrapped in. In big, slightly shaky, letters, it said: I NEED A HOME. Maude clucked her tongue, a habit she’d copied from her mother years ago. “Whoever left you here is a beast,” she informed the baby. A little hiccup came out of the tiny, pink lips. “You can chastise me all you want for it, but I still say they’re a beast,” Maude answered.

The big bell in the church began to toll the hour. Maude picked the baby up. “Our shift is over, little one,” she told the baby firmly. “Let’s go and have some milk, hm?” As the office building spewed out men and women in suits and the church bell continued to ring, Maude stumped off home.