Stories from the News – Episode 1

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become an NPR junkie. I listen to Morning Edition and All Things Considered almost every single day. I also recently discovered On the Media and listen to every week’s episode on iTunes, as well as NPR’s TED Talk podcast.

Beyond getting my daily dose of “what’s going on in the world” that way, I also get to hear interviews with authors who I never would have heard of otherwise, musicians whose music I don’t like but whose words inspire me, and series on topics that I wouldn’t be exposed to in my regular day-to-day life. Often, the stories I hear inspire me and give me ideas and things to think about. But what I don’t do often enough is write those ideas down.

Which brings me to the title of this post. Today I heard a piece that just sparked my mind and made me want to cry and laugh all at once. Whether or not a good piece of flash fiction will emerge from it is yet to be seen – but the important thing is, I’ll have recorded both the story that created a rush of feeling in me and I’ll have tried to write down some of what it made me think of. Here we go. The link below will bring you to the page with the NPR news story that I listened to. Below it is the piece of flash fiction that arose from it.

“The ‘Other Audubon’: A Family’s Passion”

______

“It’s been days. I’m worried about her.”

“At least she’s taking exercise today. That’s something.”

“Yes, but she insisted on putting on her purple dress. The one she always said that he liked.”

“And so we mustn’t say anything about it. No, not another word. If we don’t talk about him, she’ll forget about him in time as well. The important thing is that she’s out of bed again. Hush now, dearest. I think I hear her coming downstairs.”

She’d been downstairs for a while already, listening at the door, clutching at the handle of her parasol. She bit the inside of her cheek and felt the blood pool in her mouth almost at once as the old wound opened again. Every night it closed up, and every day she found a way to worry it  open again. She wouldn’t complain about it to Mama, though, because then the doctor would come, and she was sick and tired of his patronizing eyes and the way he looked at her in her shift, nothing but her shift, whenever he was there.

“Are you ready, love?”

“Yes, Mama.”

They left the house by the back door. She wanted to go out into the fields, but Mama wouldn’t let her yet. She was too pale yet, she said, and too frail. Maybe when she got stronger, in a few days. Perhaps then. She regretted, now, the fuss she’d made, putting on the purple dress and staying in bed for days. She didn’t love him all that much, really, it wasn’t about him, it was about Mama and Papa trying to protect her all the time. She knew she was frail, she knew she was sickly and small and weak, and she hated it. She could never be passionately swept up by a man like the women in novels were, and she wanted so much to be a heroine at times. The closest she ever got to being a heroine was her fits of hysterical tears and the chokes she got afterwards, when she couldn’t breathe and they fetched the damned doctor.

A whistle sounded just as Mama tried to usher her inside and she looked back. It wasn’t him, which she knew was what Mama had feared. No, it was a bird, one of the beautiful Phoebes, and she could swear that it was winking at her, promising something. In a moment she would know what it was, if only Mama waited one more second – but no, she was ushered inside and whisked back into bed to have a bowl of broth so that she could get strong again.

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Radio [Flash Fiction]

Jacky listened to the radio every day. He listened to it as a boy, hiding his transistor under his pillow so he could hear the rock music they played after ten. He listened to it as a teenager, sitting in his room and smoking cigarettes with his friends, and they would strum the air and yell at his parents whenever they tried to offer snacks and soda. He listened to it in college and grad school, often tuning to the classical stations because the sway of the music helped him concentrate. He listened to it as an adult and heard about the Berlin Wall coming down on the night that he met his future wife.

Twenty-two years later, he was still called ‘Jacky’ by everyone he knew, even though his state ID card and licence said ‘John.’ And he still listened to the radio. At this moment, he is listening to NPR and the familiar voices which have been around for half his life. He is lying in bed, alone at the moment, listening to the nurses pattering back and forth in the hallways. He tries to speak but can’t muster up the energy. He tries to move his arm and reach the call-button, but he fails at this as well. It has frustrated him in the past days, and he has felt, for the first time in his life, the urgent need to jump out of his skin.

But he has found a way to deal with it. The trapped feeling, he knows, will drive him mad if he allows it to take over. So he doesn’t. Instead, he listens to the radio that his daughters and his wife insist on leaving on by his bedside at all times. They know how much the radio has always meant to him, and he is thankful.

A Story Excerpt

I was inspired today to start writing something else in addition to my main project. It was one of those things, like Robin of a few days ago, that just started writing itself in my head before I was ready for it. Luckily, I was able to turn immediately to my computer and write. This is only about half of what I’ve written so far, and I don’t know how much potential it has, but I’m going to keep working on it, because, well, I feel like it!

**

The sirens began to wail all over the city, and we made ourselves ready. We all knew what the sound meant. In our shelter, Ben and I gathered up the weapons we had at our disposal – he a staff, and I my twin daggers. He’d learned how to use a staff at his mother’s knee, and he wielded it as if it were part of his body. I envied his skill, especially when he’d shown me that the extras he’d added to his weapon. When twisted in the center, sharp steel blades shot out of either end of the heavy wooden staff, heavier still with the lead infused in it. I could hardly lift the thing, although I’d tried often enough. Ben had the muscles of an infomercial bodybuilder – he’d added two pounds of lead to the staff every year since he hit his teens.

My skills were harder won, for I wasn’t a child of violence. I had never meant to join the revolutionaries, never meant to get tangled up in any of this. My parents were simple folk, and I grew up in a small town near the coast. I learned fishing and cooking while Ben learned the fighting arts from his mother. While he sweated in the gym, I paddled happily in the vast salt lake’s waters. While he took his oath and swore his dedication to the rebellion and revolution, I was picked as beauty queen of the seventh grade. While he debated and studied philosophy and the way of life in which we lived, I was blissfully unaware of anything outside my small community. I didn’t even know how downtrodden we were.

We were allowed television, although no Internet access. I knew vaguely about the Net because of visitors that came to the coast to enjoy some free time. They often complained about the isolation – the radios only caught music stations, and our televisions had no news channels. In our town, the war might well have been a myth. It was a myth to me until I reached adulthood at seventeen and was allowed the knowledge that had been barred from me during my childhood: the world was at war.

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.