The Wedding and the Web: Part 1

So while in the middle of a strange, hormone-fueled rage sometime in 2013, I wrote a short story one evening while sitting on the couch in our living room, not getting up and not pausing in my vicious scribbling (yep, I wrote in longhand in a spiral notebook like it was 1992) until I was finished, which was around 3 that morning. Riiight? It was bizarre. I still don’t get it. But hey, inspiration is inspiration, I suppose. I’ve longed believed that my creative muse needs medication.

In simplistic terms, the story is about family. The different roles and expectations within that dynamic, the ties between siblings and parents, husbands and wives, so on. Basically what I always write about, but quite personal in ways that I’ll save for a sighing, beleaguered therapist one day. Anyway, since This Square Peg is all about sharing, I’ve decided to share my story with you. Each day, I’ll post brief excerpts of The Wedding and the Web for your reading (and psychoanalyzing?) pleasure. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments as you go. Without further ado, Part 1 begins below.

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The Wedding and the Web

We had coddled her from the beginning. She was born “fragile”, which was a tender, childproof way of telling us what we couldn’t yet understand, that Charlotte had come into the world several weeks premature. After days of staring at our fragile baby sister through a curious glass partition in a hospital room, covered in tubes, she finally came home to us. We were always to be careful around her; this meant traipsing through the house quietly, donning masks at the onset of colds or coughs, and holding our sister only after thoroughly washing and sanitizing our hands. By the time Charlotte was 10 years old and seemingly less fragile but still being treated like a sickly infant, the three of us—ages 13, 15, and 16—were right sick of her. While my older sisters halted their coddling, I certainly had no choice, as I was too terrified of my parents to imitate the aloof disregard that my sisters now had for Charlotte. Nevertheless, our parents were fine with continuing to take up the lion’s share of babying her, which they did heartily. As a result, Charlotte grew up in the kind of gilded cage the rest of us had barely known: eternally pampered and her every whim funded by our parents. Don’t get me wrong; the three of us were hardly paupers, but there was a marked difference nonetheless.

Naturally, when we learned that Mom and Dad were paying nearly $100,000 for Charlotte’s upcoming wedding, we were stunned. Specifically, Caroline vomited; Carmen uttered words no human being should ever be forced to hear; and I recalled a time when my parents refused to pay for a college trip I wanted to take to France, while three years later, Charlotte was studying a year abroad in Paris. As we continued to digest this information, however, I couldn’t help but reason away my shock. It was impossible to be that surprised, wasn’t it? How did an expensive wedding differ from all the other things our sister had benefited from?

“I swear,” Carmen muttered repeatedly as she paced the living room. Our weekly dinner had taken place in her apartment that evening.

Caroline returned again from the bathroom, wiping her ashen face with a towel. Tears sprang to her eyes as she looked at Carmen and me. “How can they do this? What about the two of you?” she questioned.

Carmen laughed mirthlessly. “Please, when have the three of us ever mattered to Bob and Irene Vine? Especially for a wedding? You didn’t count, Caroline, when you were getting married. I’m too mean to deserve a husband, according to Mom, so I don’t count. And, well—” She cast a glance in my direction.

“What?” I demanded.

“Do I really have to say it, Cath?” she sighed.

“Say it,” I retorted, despite the painful thumping that now commenced in my chest.

“Don’t,” Caroline interjected, sitting down next to me on the sofa. She put an arm around my shoulder. “There’s no need to discuss what we already know.”

A part of me was thankful for Caroline’s constant need, as the oldest sibling, to protect us from each other. The other part of me wanted to vomit, too, based solely on the truth she would not allow Carmen to say.

“Fine,” Carmen replied, shrugging. “My point is that we are afterthoughts to our parents. And that royally stinks. But it’s not news, girls. It never was.”

And so there we were, striking the customary poses we were used to as the older siblings of Charlotte Vine: tearful, angry, and utterly lost.

*

            As usual, I was tasked with assisting Charlotte with the wedding planning. However, since my parents had also retained the services of one of San Diego’s top wedding planners (whatever that meant), my job essentially meant sitting quietly while Charlotte and the planner discussed the merits of having an ecru and powder blue color scheme. This was the conversation at hand as we sat in the massive grand ballroom of the Hotel del Coronado, more than likely the venue for the wedding.

“Cath, do you like these?” Charlotte asked as she showed me a bevy of blue and white color swatches.

As if my opinion mattered. Short of shuttling her around town and making sure she was warm and well-fed, my thoughts about anything else were fairly inconsequential. I simply nodded.

“They are lovely, aren’t they?” she replied, gently caressing the swatches. “This shade of blue reminds me of Sanford. His eyes are exactly this color, like the afternoon sky.”

The wedding planner, Mindy or Marni or something, cooed over Charlotte’s statement, going on and on about the “romance of it all.” As I imagined the blue ocean of dollar signs she likely dreamt about in her sleep thanks to the impending Vine/Bailey nuptials, the sudden vibrating of my cell phone brought me back to reality. I excused myself and took the call outside in the lobby. It was Carmen.

“Are you with the baby?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Why, Catherine? Why didn’t you say no to Bob and Irene?”

“Because I didn’t feel like being lectured about family responsibilities and being supportive.”

“You know they bring up ‘family togetherness’ when it suits their needs. You know that, Catherine. You should have spoken up. You need to speak up.”

I closed my eyes. She would push me off the nearest cliff if I told her that she was as demanding and controlling as our mother. Furthermore, it was easy to criticize when she was rarely in the role of Charlotte’s caretaker. “Did you want something, Carmen?” I asked, unable to keep the weariness from my voice.

“Just checking if you had a backbone. I have my answer.”

“Fine. Goodbye.” All the same, upon returning to the ballroom, I couldn’t stomach another moment with color swatches and the exciting cooing of Mindy or Marni or something. Feigning a migraine, I beat a hasty retreat from the hotel and was soon in my car. Later, while I waited at a stoplight, I gazed up at the brilliant afternoon sky through my windshield. Yes—precisely the color of Sanford’s eyes.

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The Age of Adaline.

First, here’s the trailer.

Now let’s talk. Can I tell you that I cannot wait to see this film? It’s everything This Square Peg loves about a good film and a good story, really: intrigue, a little romantical (not a word, but feel free to make it yours), mystery, a bit of sci-fi, and Harrison Ford. Seriously, I’ve loved him since I was 12 years old. Anyway. Absolutely looking forward to seeing it on opening weekend, and you can be sure that I’ll provide a review.

Incidentally, my bestie mentioned to me yesterday that when she saw the trailer for the film, she immediately thought of me. She then added that it seemed like a short story I would write. What a compliment. I love moments when people are reminded of what you do, especially via another medium. And besties are the best, aren’t they?

Short Story Prompt – 7/18/14

I actually wrote this short a few months ago. I didn’t care for it that much, but it’s an offering nonetheless.

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Short story prompt – A broken wristwatch, peppermints, and a hug that goes too far

Peppermints and Metal

            She rifled around her handbag for peppermints, having suddenly tasted an acerbic combination of the coffee and breakfast omelet she had scarfed down in the car on the way here. She was reaching toward the very bottom of the bag when the receptionist poked her head into the testing room. “Ms. Ritter, Mr. Coleman asked to give him a few minutes. I’ll come back to get you.”

“Thank you.” She wasn’t sure whether her words were directed toward the young woman or the outline of the mint she finally found in her bag. Popping it into her mouth, she closed her eyes as the cool flavor permeated her senses. Quickly opening her eyes, however, lest she was discovered with her eyes closed moments before an interview, Allie attempted to calm herself down. She also stopped herself from logging back into the test module to re-do the entire thing. Having taken long enough to ensure that her answers were correct, the nagging feeling that she had failed miserably—not that atypical for her—would simply have to lie in wait until this part of the day was over.

“All right, time for the gauntlet,” the receptionist announced when she walked in. She winked.

Allie chuckled. “I’ll note your choice of words.”

“Don’t worry; Mr. Coleman is a teddy bear.”

Allie followed her down the quiet hallway. She glanced through the few open doors they passed and noticed that whomever she saw smiled at her. Some even waved. All good signs, she supposed, although at this point, they could throw daggers at her and she would accept the job if it was offered to her. The receptionist led her into a spacious corner office and wished her well before departing. Behind Mr. Coleman’s desk, a breathtaking view of the Los Angeles skyline momentarily diverted Allie’s attention from her trembling hands and wet palms. She wouldn’t be alone for long, however, as she felt a slight draft behind her. The opening of a door. Be charming, she told herself, before standing up.

“Please, please, have a seat.” As he approached her, she was reminded of her grandfather, who was similarly rotund, bearded, and held the same warm demeanor as Robert Coleman. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. However, her grandfather wasn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 auditing firm. She gulped, her nerves resuming their frenetic dance. “I hope we didn’t keep you waiting too long.” He walked around his massive desk and sat down.

“Not at all,” she replied.

“Wonderful. Before we get started—” He looked toward the door and nodded. “Ah, there he is. I wanted to bring in our Senior Vice President to sit with us. He’s in charge of the division you’ll be potentially supporting.”

Should anyone ever ask, Allie was certain that she now knew what shock, anger, and nausea tasted like when they converged: like metal. Pure metal settled itself on her tongue, diminishing anything the tiny peppermint had achieved.

He took her hand in his, delving into her eyes with a fixed gaze. She firmly removed her wet hand from his iron grip and sat back down. Turning her attention to Coleman, she peripherally saw him pull up a chair.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” Coleman began. He opened a file folder on his desk. “I was very impressed by your qualifications, Ms. Ritter, and your test scores were—”

His voice drifted further and further away. Allie had returned to the dark days of the past, when she was married to a man whose idea of fidelity was skewed; he was devoted to one woman, sure, but that woman wasn’t her. The divorce had been ugly, his words and actions even uglier. She chided herself for not fully researching the company, short of a quick scan on the “About” link on their website. She would have seen that the Senior Vice President was her former husband; she would have stopped herself from applying to the Administrative Coordinator position; she would have kept the bitter taste of metal from infiltrating her tongue.

“Ms. Ritter?” Coleman asked.

“Yes?”

“Please, tell us a little about yourself.”

Continuing to focus only on Coleman, she gave a brief rundown of her schooling and where she grew up.

“Bob, I would like to actually ask specific questions about Ms. Ritter’s skills and how they’ll work for our team. Do you mind if we have a few minutes?” he asked.

“Not all. The floor is yours.” Robert Coleman smiled at her and ambled out of the office.

Allie swallowed thickly. They were alone.

“Do you believe in destiny?” he asked, walking around the desk and sitting on its edge. “That after three years, we were meant to be together once again?”

She remained silent, focusing on the skyline behind him.

“I’ve missed you, Allie. I hate calling you ‘Ms. Ritter.’ I remember when we shared the same last name.”

God, help me, she prayed. I want to kill him.

“I still have it, you know,” he then said softly. He pulled it out of his shirt pocket. She eyed the watch, with its frayed leather strap and the crack on its exterior. She had given it to him on their wedding day, only to drop it while attempting to put it on his wrist. They had laughed, joking about her famously shaky fingers when she was nervous. He had promised to always keep it.

Freshly infuriated, Allie looked him square in the eye. “You don’t deserve that watch,” she said. “It was for a different man, from a different time.”

He raised his eyebrows. “That’s not fair, Allie. I made mistakes, but I didn’t change.”

She gaped at him, momentarily struck by how thoroughly deluded he was. Nevertheless, she stood up. “Interview over,” she announced.

He was by her side in a flash, it seemed. He put his arms around her and pulled her body into his, hugging her tightly.

She shoved him with all the strength she could muster, causing him to bump into the desk and knocking a few items down. “You don’t get to do that,” Allie said, breathless and angry. “Different man, different time. Not you.” With that, she turned and exited the office. Coleman wasn’t in the hallway, but then she didn’t care.

“How was the gauntlet?” asked the receptionist as Allie passed her desk.

“I made it through.”

Short Story Prompt – 04/21/14

Short Story Prompt: Write a story incorporating the first day of school, a love note, and a recipe with a significant mistake. Thanks, Laur!

 

The Firefighter

 

The morning was stressful. The kids were all starting their respective first days of school, which meant varying degrees of mania. Alexandra was a brand new 7th grader and, naturally, obsessed with the “coolness” of her outfit and hair; Will was in 4th grade and currently in the “I don’t want to bathe” phase; and the baby, Rose, was no longer a baby and almost hyperactively excited about the first day of kindergarten. Nevertheless, Rebecca Morris was good at putting out fires. She was a pro. With ease and deep breaths, she was able to calm them down, get her son in the bathtub (not without a few bribes), and put each child on the bus before collapsing on the couch when it was all over.

Normally, post-collapse, she would get herself ready for the second part of the day, which involved getting the house in some sort of working order and other housework. However, with a smile on her face, she reminded herself that it was her first day of school, as well. Dragging herself off the couch, she ran up the stairs to get herself ready.

 

Perhaps, like Alexandra, she, too, was needlessly obsessed with the “coolness” of her outfit and hair. Having changed her clothes for the fifth time, she pulled them off and sat cross-legged on the ground, her head in her hands. She was an adult, for heaven’s sake. What was wrong with her? Or, did it have anything to do with the clothes?

Did she really believe this, going to school, would work? She was 38 years old, a mother of three, a wife—could years of putting out fires compare to what she was about to embark upon? When would she have time to help with homework and do her own? With shaky fingers, she reached for the cell phone on her dresser and dialed his office. “I don’t think I can do this,” she said when he picked up.

“Don’t psych yourself out,” Nathan replied, his warm voice instantly blanketing her senses. This is what it typically did, that voice. It was a salve.

“Too late,” she muttered, peering at herself in the mirror adjacent to her. “I’m currently sitting on the carpet, half-naked, and my hair looks like I fried it with the curling iron. This is ridiculous.”

“Babe, the interns in my office can barely spell their first names. I heard one of them ask whether Canada is considered a U.S. state since it’s close to Alaska.”

“Stop it,” she said, bubbling over with laughter.

“I’m serious. These are Harvard sophomores. You, by far, are the most intelligent person I know and you can do this.”

Rebecca sighed. “You’re sure?”

“100 percent sure. And I’m sorry I couldn’t help with the kids this morning.”

“Don’t apologize. You had to be at work at, what, dawn? You’ll get to be with them tomorrow morning.” She continued to gaze at herself in the mirror. Fried hair and half-naked, yes, but this was also the woman who introduced three human beings into the world. That counted for something. It counted for a lot, she reasoned. In that moment, a Master’s degree in Education seemed to pale in comparison.

“Up, up, up,” Nathan said gently.

She smiled and rose from the carpet. Moments later, she pulled out a pair of slacks and a blouse from her closet.

“Have a great day, love. And I left you something in the oven.”

“An apple pie for my professor? Actually, I have four classes today, so four apple pies?”

Nathan laughed. “No pies. I’ll grab Rose at 12 and bring her to the office. And we’ll be home before Alex and Will come in.”

“All right, dear. Thank you. I’ll call you later.”

“Please do.”

After ending the call, she finished getting dressed and pulled her hair into a loose ponytail. With a final glance in the mirror, she went downstairs and entered the kitchen.

Rebecca shook her head and chuckled as she pulled out a plastic bowl of fudge brownies from the oven. She deduced that he made them last night after she had fallen asleep; she had a vague memory of opening her eyes and wondering where he was. A note was taped to the cover of the bowl. Her stomach fluttering with anticipation, she opened it.

 

Remember last year when Alex ran out of glue for her school project? And you poured some flour in a pan, turned on the stove, and made her some homemade glue? I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came to me, her eyes wide and her mouth open, and said, “Daddy, Mom made glue. She can do everything.” So, Rebecca Ann Morris, you can do everything. Anything and everything. From glue to a Master’s degree to everything in between, I have no doubt that you can accomplish this goal of eventually becoming a teacher. Happy First Day of School, my love. I made these all by myself. Aren’t you proud?

 

            P.S. – I may have confused a teaspoon of salt with a tablespoon. It was 4AM. Eat with caution. I love you.

 

Despite her attempts to keep them at bay, tears budded in Rebecca’s eyes as she opened the plastic cover and pulled out a brownie. The sharp burst of salt that permeated her taste buds at first bite didn’t matter; she ate the brownie and licked a few vestiges of fudge from her finger when she was finished. After wrapping the rest of the brownies in foil and placing them in her bag, she turned and headed for the door.

Short Story Prompt – 03/24/14

Your character’s boss invites her and her husband to dinner. Your character wants to make a good impression, but her husband has a tendency to drink too much and say exactly what’s on his mind…

Clarity

“She’s in love with you, you know.”

She sharply turns toward you, her eyes wide, the skin at the base of her throat quivering with the rise of her pulse. At first, you’re surprised that you even notice these little things, being as drunk as you are, but you’ve also always believed that although alcohol dulls the ability to drive or handle a hammer, it doesn’t make a person blind. If anything, it provides the exact opposite: unremitting clarity. You have come to depend on this for the past few months, clarity by way of Scotch (or whatever else you can find). Your wife reaches over to pick up the bottle of Scotch and your glass, but you beat her to it and hold both of them close to your chest, away from her. Slowed reflexes, my foot.

Across from the two of you sits her boss, his demeanor a comical amalgam of shock and alarm. His eyes are also wide; his lips are slightly open in surprise. He is about 20 years your junior, in his early 30s, one of those upstarts that inherited a Fortune 500 company from his millionaire father and likely never worked a day in his life. He can run faster than you, hasn’t lost his left knee to surgical intrusion, and, worse, has your wife’s heart in the palm of his wealthy hand. You’d like to throw the bottle of Scotch in this face and find a match, quite frankly. “Oh, you didn’t know? Really?” you ask him drily.

“Barry, please,” she hisses.

“She talks about you incessantly. Mark this and Mark that. Her eyes…what’s the word…they gleam when she says your name. I used to do that. I used to make her eyes shine like that.” You drain the contents of your glass and follow that with a long swig from the bottle. You close your eyes as the liquid burns your throat, your lungs, then ends with a satisfying tickle in your chest.

“Perhaps it’s time to put that away, Barry,” he says.

You open your eyes. He’s giving you orders? He’s telling you what to do? “Shut up,” you say, pointing at him. “Shut up, I swear to God. You may run her life and her schedule and own her—her heart, but you don’t own me. Oh, no, sir. Not me.”
Maureen abruptly stands. “Barry, that’s it. Please just leave the table.”

You gaze at her, your vision slightly blurry. At 49, she still looks like the 18 year-old girl you married. There are no wrinkles, no blemishes on this face that looks like a pearl. Three children later, nothing about her has changed. You would climb a mountain—with your rotten knee, no less—for her. But she’s also the woman who has betrayed you. “I’m not going anywhere. Let’s all sit and discuss how this will play out. Sit, Maureen.”

Reluctantly, slowly, she sits down.

You point a finger at Mark, who still seems visibly surprised, but is now leaning back in his chair, his arms crossed, and his eyes fixed squarely on you. Going toe to toe, are we now? you wonder. “All right. Be straight with me, kid: how far has this gotten?”

“God, Barry, stop this,” she muttered, her head in her hands.

“Maybe you should consider dignifying your wife. In fact, I would highly recommend it,” Mark said icily.

You slam the bottle of Scotch down on the table and rise from your seat, despite the shakiness of your legs, of your entire equilibrium. “What do you know about dignity, you little rat?” you demand. You are vaguely aware of Maureen now reaching over to pick up the bottle, but it doesn’t matter anymore. “Dignity is not stealing her from me. Dignity is not calling her in the middle of the night and pretending it’s about work. You don’t think I hear standing outside, laughing and whispering into the phone? You know nothing about dignity, my friend. Nothing.”

Mark laughs.

You gape at him. He’s laughing at you?

“And you think this little display of drunken bravery will win her back?” he taunts. “I’m everything you’re not. I’m what she deserves.”

Slowly, you regard Maureen, who gazes at her paramour with pride. It has come to this. Thirty-two years of marriage has dwindled down to this moment, where your wife gazes at another man with the pride once reserved for you.
Mark then stands up, his outstretched hand presented toward your wife. She smiles and accepts it. As she and he exit the dining room hand-in-hand, she doesn’t look back.

Confused, blurry-eyed, and stunned, you gaze at the bottle of Scotch. “Did you do this?” you ask the bottle.
It doesn’t answer.

“Barry?”

You blink and peer around you, your vision hazy and unsure. What is happening? You hear your name being called, as if from several miles away.

“Barry, honey?”

You turn toward the voice. It’s her voice. Did she just call you “honey?” You feel a hand slide in yours, breath in your ear. “Honey, maybe you’ve had one too many,” she whispers. “I’ll get you some coffee. Ok?”

You nod, your head feeling as if it weighs 100 pounds. She gets up from the table and disappears into the kitchen. He still sits across from you, the wunderkind millionaire, yet something feels different. Wasn’t he laughing smugly before? Hadn’t they walked away from you a few moments ago, her hand entwined with his? When she returns, the aroma of hazelnut coffee fills the room. Your favorite. She sets the mug before you. “Mark wanted to know if you’d like to do some consulting work for the company during the teacher’s strike. I told him about your background in project management.”

You pick up the mug and sip the warm liquid. Things slowly, slowly dawn on you. What happened before was imagined, a waking nightmare.

“We’d love to have you,” you hear Mark saying. “We can set you up in an office, and, believe me, we’ll have plenty of work for you.”

Your wife is not having an affair with your 30 year-old boss. She did not leave your home with him.

You’ve been drinking too much, ever since the teacher’s strike at the college a month ago. You’ve been filling your long, endless days with Scotch and suspicion.

It ends now.

You tell Mark that it sounds like a great idea. Maureen claps with enthusiasm and slides her arm around you, thanking Mark for the offer. You gaze at her. She deserves more from you, more than an alcohol-infused downward spiral and feeling sorry for yourself. Unremitting clarity, indeed.

Short Story Prompt – 01/06/14

Title: My Problem

Finish these sentences: “I have a little bit of a problem. I like to __________. It all started when I was __________, when __________.”

I have a little bit of a problem. I like to follow people. Stalk them, to be specific. It all started when I was 10 years old, when my mother and I would follow my father around to see if he was cheating on her. Back then, even at 10, I was aware that something wasn’t right with my father. He stopped coming to my concerts and to Parent Night at school. He also started going away a lot, either on business trips or visiting out of town friends; disappearing into the basement when he would get a call and whispering into the phone. My mother saw those things, as well.

I remember walking into her bedroom one breezy, warm afternoon. The windows were open because our air conditioner was broken, and we couldn’t afford one just yet. We could never afford things back then. My father never seemed to have enough money when it came to us or the house, and he was the only one working. She was sitting on the bed, crying, gripping the cordless phone in her hands. I immediately began to cry, as well, as I could never stand to see my mother in pain or distress, and usually joined her in however she was manifesting her feelings. A kind of adolescent solidarity, I suppose. I sat next to her.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” I asked, out of breath from sobbing along with her.

“Nothing, my love. But no more soccer after school. We need to take care of something with your father.”

After that day, my mother would pick me up from school and drive to my father’s office. We would park far away to ensure that he didn’t see her car, but close enough to keep an eye on the building. She would buy bags of snacks and books to keep me entertained while she kept a fixed stare on the building. She never ate. She barely replied when I would remark about something exciting in the latest book I was reading. She simply stared at the building. Eventually, I stopped eating and reading, as well. I climbed into the passenger seat and stared at the building right along with her.

The first few times, when my father finished work and got into the car, we would follow him to bars, or jazz clubs in the city. We never saw a woman. He would stay inside for hours then drive home. My mother would stay behind a few cars, again ensuring that she kept a good distance but enough to see him. Once we were sure he was heading home, we would drive to the grocery store or to the bookstore and then come home later. “So that we’re not lying when we tell him where we were,” Mom liked to say. It was like this for about a month, and then things changed.

We didn’t see a woman leaving with my father from a bar, or a club. Rather, she walked out of the office with him one afternoon. She had long, blonde hair, and the kind of tight dress that looked like breathing would tear it in half. My father had his arm around her, and he walked her to her car. When they reached her car, my father kissed this strange woman in a way that didn’t give me the butterfly feeling, the tickling in my belly when I would see two people kissing in Disney movies. This was wrong, and it made my stomach hurt. I recall hearing my mother gasp.

After that afternoon, we followed my father to all kinds of places after work. The blonde woman was always with him. They went to hotels, motels, the woman’s apartment building. My mother seemed to hold her breath during those long hours in the car when my father was inside with the woman. She rarely moved. I knew not to complain about the heat in the car, or that I was dizzy, or to ask whether we could turn the car on for some AC. I knew to keep quiet.

My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. Mom and I moved from Savannah to Syracuse, where my grandparents lived. Mom never re-married, and she never mentioned my father again.

It started with a boy I liked in high school. Billy McGee. He was the smartest boy in our class; in Honors everything, it seemed. By the time I was 16 and inherited my Grandpa’s Cadillac, I began to follow Billy from school after tennis practice. I can’t really describe the decision to follow him around. Maybe I wanted to see what his life outside of school was like. Maybe I wanted to just see him, or just be in the proximity. I don’t know. After Billy, it was Mike Cousins, my next crush. After Mike, it was Candy Russo, who started dating Billy when we were seniors. I wanted to catch her doing something illegal, to prove to myself that she didn’t deserve Billy, even though I had moved on from him.

When I graduated high school, my father sent me a card and $1,000. I gave the money to my grandparents.

In college at Syracuse University, there were so many I followed—friends, crushes, professors.

These days, there’s a man I’m seeing. I actually think I’m in love with him. And I want to trust him, to not believe that he won’t hurt me or take up with another woman. I don’t want to follow him around. But how else can I be sure?

Short Story Prompt – 12/30/13

Short Story Prompt – Make a list of five things that you’re afraid of happening to you. Then write a story in which one of them happens to the character…

Thanks, Ms. L! (I cheated a little with this one, though. You’ll see…)

The List

In the past, she had therapists who couldn’t abide by her silence. Some would visibly shift uncomfortably in their leather chairs while waiting for her to respond; others would allow it for mere moments before breaking the silence apart, eventually pressuring her toward a reply/conclusion that they themselves created.

Robin Thurston was nothing like this.

Dr. Thurston had a way of almost retreating into the shadows after posing a question or a thought, almost disappearing into thin air while Jean customarily took her time to wrap her mind around an idea. It was jarring at first; she had become used to impatient therapists, using their intolerance as an excuse to continue with the desperate and toxic acts that now framed her life. Ultimately, however, she realized that—surprise, surprise—Dr. Thurston was neither intolerant nor a fool. She simply wanted to help her.

That morning, after they did away with their usual pleasantries, Dr. Thurston placed a blank sheet of paper on the glass coffee table that sat between them. Jean regarded her and waited. They tended to do these kinds of exercises. Dr. Thurston would ask her to write down silly things like her favorite memories from childhood, or five things she was grateful for. To date, not one exercise had resulted in Jean writing anything down. She wanted to tell Dr. Thurston that she was killing trees, wasting paper on someone who was enshrouded in so much darkness.

“I want you to write a few things down for me,” Dr. Thurston said.

Jean sighed inwardly. It would be another quiet session, another blank piece of paper.

“Make a list of five things you’re afraid of happening to you.”

Swallowing thickly, she peered at Dr. Thurston, waiting for an explanation. They’d never done something like this before.

“Go ahead, Jean. Here’s the pen; write them down.”

With trembling fingers, she accepted the pen and picked up the piece of paper. There was no need for her mind to assimilate the request, as she was prone to do. She began writing, and quickly.

Death

Assault

Drowning

Spiders

Everything

Dr. Thurston looked over the list, and then smiled. “These are the first honest things you’ve said to me in the six months we’ve known each other, Jean.”

She nodded slowly, unable to halt the hot, unrelenting tears that descended onto her chin, her neck, her clothes.

“Now,” Dr. Thurston said, gently tapping at the piece of paper, “now we can talk to each other.”

Short Story Prompt #2 – 12/25/13

Short Story Prompt – Fashion a story using these five things:
1. A rotten gala apple
2. A pair of lime green sneakers
3. A missed appointment
4. A pig
5. A goodbye hug

Lime Green and Time Machines

“What time is it?” she asked, out of breath, as she came bounding into the bedroom. “I’m so late. I think I missed the appointment. God, this will be the fourth time.”

Quietly, he gazed at her from the bed, pausing in his tapping of the keyboard. As he took in her splotchy, red face, the sweat-stained exercise clothes, and those unfortunate lime green sneakers, he couldn’t stop the disdain that crept into his chest.

“I lost track of time. It was such a good run, honey,” she went on, pulling off her clothes and throwing them to the floor. “You would have loved it. Sandy found this trail by Miller’s Lane, and there were these beautiful creeks and brooks. It was so picturesque.”

After the baby, he was the one who introduced her to running when all the dieting and convoluted weight loss plans became ineffectual. She had taken to it immediately, increasing their twice-a-week morning runs to once a day a month shortly after they started. Eventually, he was replaced by a neighborhood running group. (“Honey, you work so hard. You can sleep in and I’ll run with the group.”) They called themselves The HouseMiles, a silly play on the fact that all of them were housewives. He wasn’t sure what annoyed him more: the mornings when the women showed up at the house at dawn, disturbing their home at such an early hour with their obnoxious laughter, or the fact that she hadn’t lost one bit of weight in the six months since she had started running. If anything, as he regarded her bulbous, equally splotchy belly, she seemed to have inexplicably gained more weight.

“I should call Mrs. Appleton, shouldn’t I? I should call her.” With that, she walked over to the bedside table near him and picked up the telephone to call their son’s teacher. “Hello, Mrs. Appleton, it’s Mallory Renaud…yes, I’m so sorry…I lost track of time…is there a way to reschedule…oh, you can’t? I understand that this is the fourth appointment I’ve missed. No, my husband injured his foot, so he won’t be able to…yes, I know how disappointed you must be. Yes, yes, I’ll hold.”

He watched her close her eyes and take a prolonged, deep breath. She was obviously embarrassed at having missed another appointment. He didn’t feel sorry for her. If she spent less time gossiping with those hens after their runs, perhaps she would have arrived home at a reasonable time.

“Yes, I’m here. Next Tuesday at 7:30? That sounds perfect. Thank you, Mrs. Appleton. We really appreciate it.” She hung up the phone and sat down on the bed in a huff. “That woman will be the death of me. I’m sure she’s told the other parents what a horrible mother I am.”

As the pungent scent of her sweaty body consumed his senses, he wished she had put on a bathrobe instead of sitting here like this, in a wet bra and underwear.

“What are we going to do, Lewis?” she asked, shaking her head.

Here come the waterworks. Sure enough, as she began to softly cry, he wished there was a time machine somewhere in the house, something to take him back to last week. He’d been so stupid last week, heading down the stairs without paying attention. That’s when he slipped and tumbled all the way down. With the time machine, things would be so different. No toy, no fall, no two-week long condemnation in a house he could hardly bear.

“Why is he this way, Lewis? What are we doing wrong?” she asked, tears falling down her chubby face.

A month ago, their 11-year old son had decided to pull yet another prank on his teacher. During recess, LJ took advantage of his empty classroom and filled Mrs. Appleton’s desk (as well as the coat closet) with rotting and/or rotted Gala apples. There was no investigation on who could do such a thing; his track record having been proven since the beginning of the year, it was obvious who the culprit was. Apparently, he had saved a month’s worth of apples for the plan, hiding them in his room until the time was right. His reason for the prank? Mrs. Appleton’s last name. It just seemed perfect for a prank, the boy said.

“Maybe we’re not—we’re not strict enough with him. We spoil him.”

We? Yeah, right. He was the one who refused to pamper the boy, suggesting that they send the boy to military school for a dose of hard reality. Nevertheless, with her constant waterworks at the idea of sending the boy away, he stopped arguing. Let the boy be a terror, he told her the last time. And now, as she cried and blamed herself, he did nothing to dissuade her. It was her fault. Moreover, their 10-month old baby would be the same way as his older brother: spoiled rotten. Again, as he watched her weep, the disdain crept up in his heart. He could no longer decipher whether the feeling came as a result of isolated moments like this, or whether it had always been there.

Just then, the squealing, screeching welcome of the boy’s pet pig pierced the bedroom. He leaned back against the pillows, wanting to punch something. As usual, their son left that blasted cage open, and she, naturally, left the bedroom door open. Wiping her face, she scooped up the miniature pig from the ground, holding the squealing animal to her chest. “You escaped again, Kumquat. What are we going to do with you?” she cooed. “Isn’t he adorable, Lewis?”

He had said “no” to the pig, as well.

“Hon, I’m going to throw on a robe and check on the baby,” she said, turning toward him. Before leaving, she leaned forward and hugged him tightly, the pig’s fur rubbing against his chin. “Everything will be all right, won’t it? Won’t it, Lewis?” Without waiting for an answer, she hugged him again and kissed his forehead.

As he watched her go, he silently uttered his second wish of the day: that her hug had meant goodbye.

Wednesday Writers’ Spotlight: L. Taylor

Because this blog, first and foremost, is about writing. Every Wednesday, I’ll spotlight a fellow writer and bring you his or her thoughts about this writing crafts of ours by way of a brief interview. First up is Ms. L. Taylor, a wonderful friend of mine and an equally amazing writer. I’m not just saying that; one of her short stories recently blew this mind of mine. And it was a sweet, sweet implosion. She also provided the writing prompt for the short story I wrote and shared this week, so another yay for her. Read on, won’t you?

1. When did you start writing?

Ms. L. Taylor!
Ms. L. Taylor!
I’ve been writing in journals since I was about 11. That’s how it started, really – chronicling my daily thoughts and feelings. Later, I moved into the realm of teenage angst and began writing poetry. My early twenties saw short fiction stories added to that collection, and I’ve really never stopped writing since.
2. What or who was your inspiration to start writing?
My sister was my inspiration. I don’t think she’s written in a long time, but when I was little, I remember her writing these wonderful short stories that absolutely captivated me. I would always think, “I wish I could write like that.”
3. What are some of the themes you like to explore in your work?
The broad spectrum of human emotion has always been my favorite thing to write about. Heartbreak, loss, self-discovery and appreciation, love – you name the emotion, and I can write about it. I love to explore it all in different ways.
4. What’s your writing schedule?
I have always been able to write best late at night, when the rest of the world is dreaming. That’s when I’ve come up with some of the work I’m most proud of.
5. How do you combat the dreaded writer’s block?
When I have writer’s block, prompts are my best friend. Nothing shakes me out of a block like being given a story idea and meeting the challenge of bringing life to that idea.
6. Conversely, I’ve heard that writer’s block doesn’t exist; it’s actually having too many ideas that’s the problem. Do you agree with that? Why or why not?
I can’t speak for all writers, but for me personally, writer’s block is not about having too many ideas, but rather about not knowing how to develop those ideas. As a writer, I find that I always have ideas. What to do with those ideas, though, is sometimes the cause of the block.
7. Who are your favorite authors?
John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, Michael Crichton, William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Louisa May Alcott.
8. Do you write only fiction, or do you dabble in poetry and other genres?
I mainly write fiction and poetry. As bad as it probably sounds, I spend a lot of time in my own head, and those genres indulge my inner dreamer and hopeless romantic.
9. Do you think blogging aids in creativity?
Definitely! One reason is because it gives you an outlet for something that might be hiding within, waiting for the right time to come out and develop at the flourish of your own. It gives you a voice, and it’s good practice in letting other people read (and sometimes critique) your thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Thanks, L!!

I see we have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to when our journeys as writers began, as well as the overall themes in our work. If you’d like to read more from Ms. L. Taylor, check out her blog at www.passionatevoice.tumblr.com.

And if you’re a writer and would like to be featured in the Spotlight, feel free to contact me in the comments or via the email on my Contacts page.

Short Story Prompt – 12/16/13

Short Story Prompt: Write about a a person whose family member is suffering from amnesia and tries to get that person to remember them.

One year after the search parties had disassembled and the leads had run cold, she decided that it was time to restart her life. She moved back into their bedroom from the guest room; she opened windows and pulled up blinds; she began accepting requests for dinner with family and friends. It wasn’t that the grief was gone; she simply woke up one morning and decided to live with it rather than pretend it simply wasn’t there.

Naturally, when her best friend, Harriet Monroe, asked her to come along for a weekend business trip to New York City, she accepted. The sole hesitation she had, that of Harriet’s demand that Grace make full use of the former’s American Express card, was eventually silenced when her friend regarded her sternly and remarked that she deserved it. You do deserve this, a voice not unlike his, reverberated in the back of her mind.

*

After a Saturday filled with horse-drawn carriage rides, Central Park, and a plenty of food, Grace decided to call it a day. Had she remembered to turn left at 11th Avenue instead of making a right, she would have never walked by the Grotto Café and glanced inside, and she certainly wouldn’t have seen her presumed dead husband sitting at the counter that faced the window, sipping from a coffee mug. But she did make the wrong turn, and there he was.

With a deafening roar in her ears and her vision swimming, she stumbled toward the window and touched it.

He looked up.

She smiled and waved, tears springing to her eyes.

He looked behind him, then back at her, clearly puzzled.

She tapped at the glass repeatedly, as if to communicate, if she could speak in that moment, for him to come outside. The fact that the patrons inside the café peered at her in confusion remained unnoticed.

He hailed a waiter and spoke to the young man while gesturing toward her.

Moments later, the freckled-faced waiter stood next to her on the sidewalk. “Ma’am,” he said, “do you need some help? My customer thinks you might be upset.”

Grace glanced at the waiter, wondering why this boy was interrupting their moment. Somehow, amid the deafening roar and the violent shifting in her equilibrium, she found her voice. “Please leave me alone. I’m trying to tell my husband to come outside. In fact, tell him to come outside, please.”

“He’s your husband?”

“Yes, he is. He’s my husband. My God.” With that, Grace burst into tears.

Moments later, her husband joined the alarmed waiter on the sidewalk. Carefully, he touched her elbow. “Is there someone we can call? Someone that can help you?” he asked.

It was the voice she had listened to for the past twelve months. Days after he went missing, she would repeatedly call his cell phone and listen to his outgoing message, allowing the warm timbre of Kyle’s voice to drape over her. That voice had saved her during those harrowing days when taking her own life seemed to be the only option after months of searching for a man that couldn’t be found. Nevertheless, here he was, on a sidewalk in New York City, standing before her.

“Kyle,” she sobbed, before throwing her arms around him.

Behind her, the waiter followed the silent instructions of his customer and went back into the restaurant to call the police. He then patted her back gently, carefully.

“Kyle, hold me,” she said, looking up at him, tears cascading down her face. “Why won’t you hold me?”

“Ma’am…”

The word pierced through her tears, through her engorged, pulsating heart, and landed right in the center of her chest. Ma’am.

Grace stepped back abruptly. “Kyle, what’s wrong with you?” she demanded.

He regarded her sadly, pity etched across his demeanor. “Ma’am, I’m sorry. I don’t think I’m the person you’re looking for.”

“Stop that.”

“Stop what, ma’am?”

“Stop calling me that! I’m—” The words I’m your wife sat on the edge of her tongue, waiting to be uttered, to be screamed. Instead, she took a deep breath and attempted to steady herself, finally recognizing, amid the rush of senses, that something wasn’t quite right here. “Your—your name is Kyle Walsh, isn’t it?” she asked.

“No, ma’am, it’s Henry Baylor.”

Henry Baylor.

“Is this your first time in the city? It can be overwhelming, with all these people. And it can be very easy to confuse one person with someone else.”

Her husband, the only man she had ever loved and trusted, was speaking to her as if she was a child. “It’s me,” she muttered to the ground. “It’s me.”

“Don’t worry; someone will be here to help.”

“It’s me,” she repeated, louder this time. Some passerby turned and glanced in their direction, a feat in a city where nothing seemed to faze its residents or turn their heads. “It’s me. It’s me.”

“I’m really sorry. I don’t know who you are.”

With shaking hands, she dug into her handbag and pulled out her wallet. Opening it, she shoved it toward him and tapped at the photo behind the plastic cover.

He frowned and gazed at the photo. A bride and a groom stood on white sands, the waves of a nearly translucent blue ocean crashing behind them. The bride and groom grinned happily at the camera and held each other tightly. The bride, lovely in her long, white gown, resembled the woman that stood before him. Her dark hair was longer in the photo, but it was indeed her; the same big, brown eyes that now peered at him in bewilderment looked at the camera, albeit happier and beaming with joy. And the groom…

The groom had his face. The same sharp jaw, the same tiny mole underneath his left eye, the same dimpled cheeks.

He looked up at her, blinking rapidly. The strange buzz that he occasionally heard, like a fly let loose inside his head, started up again. After dozens of MRIs and brain scans, the doctors still couldn’t tell him where it came from, other than that he could have possibly suffered from a fall or blow to the head. It was louder this time, the strange buzz, pronounced. Did he and this woman truly know each other?

She came toward him again. “Your name is Kyle Matthew Walsh. I fell in love with you on our first date,” she said softly, her voice quivering. “You proposed to me on our third date. We got married on that beach in Antigua, five years ago. You’ve been—you went missing a year ago. If you can’t remember what you were doing a year ago, then something is wrong.”

This strange woman…with her big, brown eyes that seemed awfully familiar. And, no, he could barely recall events beyond the current year. He strained and pushed, but had resigned himself to being a simple man with no real memories.

Moments later, Grace took his hand into hers and steered them away from the café. She wasn’t sure where they were going; perhaps to find Harriet, to find a hospital; to fly back home. All she knew that was her husband didn’t let go of her hand.