The Beast

01-21 Flower

It slithers through

subconscious caverns,

slinking around the darkest

corners cloaked by repression,

nourished by denial;

the sweetness, addictive-

the hunger, insatiable.

Shrouded in ignorance,

the beast dances the host

into quick-stepped slavery

in jeweled shackles of depravity…

The beast thrives,

while humanity dies.

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Bjorn Rudberg invited me to check out the First Quadrille at dVerse. The challenge invites us to write a piece in exactly 44 words, using the word “dance” as a verb including an object.  If you’d like to join in, the prompt is still open.

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For those of you who read the poem and are thinking, “huh?” this is where I normally help by explaining what I was thinking when I wrote it.  Unfortunately, I can’t be so specific as to name the addiction (and I can’t say why, either), but I can say I was writing about the  impulse (beast) that lives within, unchecked.  It thrives, hidden by our own denial, gaining strength as it consumes us.  Left alone, that impulse/behavior becomes us and we lose who we used to be.  The frightening thing is, others can see this happening, but the afflicted person is often clueless.

I’m sorry I haven’t had as much time to read and comment on blogs – I have about a week before I need to be out of my house, so things are crazy right now.  It will probably be a couple more weeks before I am able to really get back into things – please be patient with me!  Have a beautiful Thursday :)

The Cruise (Fiction – With Photo By Emilio Pasquale)

Well, I did it again… Emilio Pasquale (at Photos by Emilio) gave me this photo to write for December, but I’m a tad bit later than I hoped I’d be.  If you aren’t familiar with this collaboration, Emilio sends me a photo for inspiration and I write a story… my story follows immediately after the photo.  Oh, and if you aren’t familiar with Emilio’s work, you really should click the link above to check it out :)

Photo by Emilio Pasquale... story, by me
Photo by Emilio Pasquale… story, by me

“You can’t do it?” Nikki laughed.  “Oh, it’s too late to back out now, Laura.  A deal is a deal.”

I cleared my throat.  “Look, I had too much to drink and I over-committed myself.”

Nikki’s eyes narrowed as she handed me an envelope.  “The cruise leaves at five o’clock on Friday.  You’ll have about 24 hours to accomplish what you promised.”

“I just told you, I can’t do it.”

“You’ll get the $500 when you bring me proof that you took care of business.”

“Do you want me to bring his heart back in a box or what?”

Ignoring my sarcasm, Nikki smirked.  “No proof, no cash.”

“So when do I find out who he is?”

“You’ll know when you see him.”

I grunted.  “So that’s it?  Nothing else to go on?”

“Nope.”

“And why a cruise?  You know how I feel about boats.  And water.”

“Good thing it’s a ship then.”

I stared at the cruise ticket and itinerary in my hand.  “Fine.  I’ll do it.”  I stood and stomped from the restaurant, fuming that Nikki’s laughter taunted me all the way to the front door.

***        ***        ***

I’d learned a valuable lesson on New Year’s Eve that business and friendship didn’t mix, and deals should never be made over cocktails, behind the cloak of new years and fresh starts.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s how the corporate world had gotten so messed up.  My new policy is that alcohol should be consumed alone (if ever), and if others are present, complete silence is preferred.  I’d only had a few days to prepare, but somehow, I crossed the gangway fifteen minutes before departure; make-up and hair professionally done, wearing a knee-length party dress with enough sequins to make a dance mom envious.

I scanned the room and immediately realized I was over-dressed- as in wearing too much fabric.  I’d long suspected it, but this just proved that imagination had become endangered through evolution.  I remained determined to not let it go extinct.  I lifted my chin in protest, proud that I was not one reach away from a wardrobe malfunction.

The conflicting scents in the room made me dizzy.  Musk, floral, citrus- they all smelled like desperation to me.  But the dusting of glitter on too-exposed bodies made it pretty, I guess.  I winced.  Nikki might’ve been right:  I’m too sarcastic to socialize.  I reminded myself that this wasn’t a social event, per se.  I had a task to accomplish.  I shook my head to clear the perfumed thoughts and searched for anyone who appeared like they were looking for someone else.  Isn’t that everyone here? I wondered in frustration.

“Hey, sweetie.  Looking for someone?”

My nose involuntarily wrinkled as I turned toward the male voice right next to me.  I forced my gaze away from the silky sheen of his gelled hair; the lights literally glared off it.  I shook my head and stepped away.  “No.  Actually, I’m not.”  I almost laughed at the stunned effect of my honesty, so I walked away before he mistook the reaction as a come-on.  I happened upon a staircase leading to the upper deck.  As I climbed, I smiled; thankful I had sense enough to wear ballet flats rather than pinchy, strappy high heels.  They have rhinestones, I reminded myself, as if to justify my shunning of fashion.

I leaned against the railing that had been strung with white lights.  The golden lights from nearby vessels seemed magical against the backdrop of the darkening sky.  They almost made me believe in fairy dust, unicorns and love, but when I closed my eyes, I could still discern between fantasy and reality.  My shoulders slumped when the thought occurred to me that gazing at lights did nothing to complete what needed to be done.  I turned toward the stairwell and tried to make myself move, but my feet remained firmly planted.

Then I saw him and gasped.  It couldn’t be.  But his profile looked just like Chas Spencer, my ex-fiancé.  From a distance, one might view him as cunning, even clever.  But I knew better.  I knew there was no substance behind his too-white smile- or beneath the knock-off designer clothing and Calvin Klein boxer briefs- I could see the waistband peeking between the top of his slacks and the bottom of his untucked shirt when he leaned over to tie his shoelace.  I knew he tried to project the air of casual wealth, but the message I got was:  I’m broke and make bad decisions.  I spent all my money on underwear so I couldn’t afford a belt.

Certain he was the real deal and not a doppelganger; I became furious at Nikki and grew more determined than ever to succeed at what I came here to do.  More than the $500, I needed to prove Nikki wrong.  I could do this.

I would rather have been at home wearing fleece pajamas and eating Häagen-Dazs while watching movies on Netflix, but I pasted on my best smile in hopes of hiding my true feelings.

“Chas, is that you?”

His eyes widened.  “Laura!”  His gaze darted from one side to the other, and then back to me.

“Are you here with someone?”

“Well, uh, sort of.  Oh, man, this is awkward….”

My smile became more genuine.  I truly enjoyed watching him squirm.  “Oh, I’d love to meet her.  Where is she?”  I raised my eyebrows.  “It is ‘she’, right?”

“It’s a blind date.  I haven’t found her yet.”

“I think maybe you have.  Nikki sent me here.”

The color drained from his fake-tanned face.

I shrugged.  “Sorry dear, but it looks like it’s you and me tonight.”  I wasn’t really sorry.

“I-I was supposed to start the New Year with a fresh start.”

“Isn’t that kind of hard to do when you’re the same old you?”

He glared at me.

“Look, we’re stuck here, so we might as well make the best of it.”

“What’s your game?”

I tilted my head to the side.  “Game?”

“Yeah, when you found out I cheated, you told me to drop dead… and some other things.”

“You never did listen very well.  Hey, how about we get a drink?”

After several seconds of skeptical scrutiny, he headed to the stairway.  I followed and exhaled a relieved sigh.  Once upstairs, I told him I’d get the drinks.  He started to protest, but I pretended not to notice and walked away.

I handed him his usual: vodka gimlet.

“What did you get?”

“Rum and Coke,” I raised my voice so he could hear over the band that just started playing.  Minus the rum.

Fifteen minutes later, I plucked the empty glass from his hand.  “I’ll get you another.”  He didn’t argue.  His attention was focused on the band’s lead singer; a busty blonde sporting strategically placed swatches of black leather.  This is almost too easy.

After the fifth drink, I noticed it was almost midnight.  I asked, “Do you mind if I take our picture?  You know, for old time’s sake?”

He looped his arm around my waist and pulled me toward him.  I snapped the picture just as his lips landed on my cheek.  I extracted myself from his grip and offered to get him another drink.

I lost count of the drinks, but I was down about fifty dollars when I noticed Chas struggling to balance on the backless stool.  “I think you’ve had enough.  I’ll walk you to your room.”

He smiled; a sloppy grin.  “You just want to get me alone.”

“You got me figured out.”

Using me for balance, Chas managed to get to his room, falling only once.

“I need your room key.”

He leaned against the wall by the door.  “It’s in my pocket.”

I sighed.  “Which one.”

He winked.  “I don’t remember.”

Five hundred dollars, I reminded myself.  I guessed right and found the key in his left front pocket.

Chas fell onto the bed and pulled me on top of him.  I scrambled away.  “I need to use your restroom.”

“I’ll be right here, baby.”

His slurred words made my stomach lurch.  I stayed in the locked bathroom until I heard his rumbling snores.  I slipped out of the bathroom and searched the duffel bag by the bed.  I found what I needed and stuffed it into my purse. I ran from the room, relieved when the door latched behind me.

I did it.

***        ***        ***

“I don’t believe it,” Nikki said, mouth agape.

“I think you owe me $500.”

“I-I didn’t think you’d do it.”  Nikki handed me the envelope.

I lifted the flap and counted the bills, then shoved the envelope in my purse.

“You don’t trust me?”

I smiled.  “I used to.  Before you and Chas.”

Nikki stared at the table.  “I regret that.  I wanted to make things right again; to get you back together.”

“Not in this lifetime.”

She lifted her gaze, puzzled.

“Nothing happened.  After he passed out, I took a pair of underwear from his duffel bag.”

“You cheated!  The bet was that you had to spend the night with someone I set you up with.”

“No, you cheated. I just played your game and won.”  I smiled.  “And I did spend the night with him- a very long evening of observing who he really is.  You know, I hated you for what you did, Nikki, but you actually saved me.  I don’t know if I can trust you again, but I do forgive you.”

This time, I strode out of the restaurant in peace; leaving Nikki in stunned silence.

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The obvious inspiration for the story was Emilio’s photo.  But I’ve had other stuff on my mind that may have affected the story that developed.  Mainly, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, and how hard it can be to reach that point where you can truly release a hurt and heal.  I also think when we’ve hurt someone, sometimes our attempts at “fixing” things are misguided (like Nikki), and might be more for the benefit of easing our own guilt, rather than for the person we’ve hurt.  Now, I’m thinking I just might think too much… so I’ll stop now :)

Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful week!

Filled Slate

Another page turned,
365 days of memories
fresh in my mind;
like too-thick paint
on an oil-slicked surface.
I wake to the problems
of so many yesterdays,
yet resolve to remain resolute
in my desire to see hope
where I once saw darkness.
It’s hard to lift my chin
and I search my heart for praise
clutching a half-full glass,
trusting it will never be empty-
rather, overflowing with counted blessings.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post- it just makes me smile :)
This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post- it just makes me smile :)

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As I do with poetry, I’m going to explain the thoughts behind the words I chose.  I wrote this poem on the first day of the year.  I admire those who approach the new year with such a strong sense of hope and excitement for what the next 365 days might hold.  I want to hope- I really do, but if hope was a candle’s flame, reality would be the wind gust gathering the strength to snuff it out.

I woke up on New Year’s Day, hoping my heart would feel giddy anticipation for the promise of a new year; a clean slate of sorts.  Instead, my consciousness noted the fact there is no clean slate – my slate is already filled with the stuff that’s happened the last year, and it’s too gunked up to be wiped away.  Before the end of the year, I received a confirmed diagnosis of the culprit of my younger son’s pain:  juvenile arthritis, specifically, ankylosing spondylitis.  (He is an amazing kid who happens to turn 10 this week.)  The new year doesn’t change the fact I’m left with choices that don’t feel very much like choices at all.  The first seven lines of the poem speak to this.

Even under the weight of reality, I still want to hope and remember the ways I am blessed.  I spent most of 2015 in a suffocating darkness where I could see no reason for my next breath.  I don’t make resolutions, but I do resolve to do everything I can to not go there again.  Praise is a chore at times, but I want to trust with all my heart that under the thorns of my burdens lives a joy I couldn’t fully appreciate without the struggles.  The last part of the poem is a pep talk to myself to not let my past hog-tie my future and take away my ability to experience joy.

May you find peace today, tomorrow, and the days following- even during trying times.  Have a beautiful Wednesday!

Good Enough?

Time to sweep the driveway... again....
Time to sweep the driveway… again….

I swept the driveway earlier this week.  I’d been at it for over an hour, and frankly, was tired of seeing pine needles and leaves.  I looked behind me and noticed some stray leaves that I had missed.  I turned back around and continued sweeping, muttering, “it’s good enough.”

Good enough?  This is unlike me.  When did good enough become good enough?

My entire life, I’ve been an over-achiever.  If I earned an “A” in school, the percent mattered:  90% was barely skating by… almost a “B”.   I can’t remember what it is I needed to buy at Walmart even though I wandered the aisles hoping it would come to me, but I haven’t forgotten that nearly 20 years ago, I was a tenth of a percent away from graduating college Summa Cum Laude.  Magna Cum Laude wasn’t good enough.

I’ve been known to follow up after my kids do their chores because it wasn’t good enough.  I constantly wipe water spots from chrome faucets.  Daily, I wage war against the clutter threatening to overtake my one long counter top.  My plastic storage containers are nested neatly in the cabinet, in spite of the kids’ tendency to haphazardly toss them onto the shelf.

I wonder:  have I accepted that good enough should be embraced rather than shunned?   Maybe I’m finally seeing that perfection is an unattainable illusion.  Maybe I realize that time is a commodity and that “good enough” is an excellent savings plan.

Or, maybe I’m just tired.

Yes, I think this is it.  Many days getting out of bed is a milestone because I didn’t think I could do it.  I’m not so sure my “good enough” attitude is permanent, but if it gets me through the day, well, that’s good enough.

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I’m still struggling with keeping up with things I need to do, so writing time is next to none (which frustrates me.)  Just thinking about what I have to do puts me into a state of inaction and procrastination (equally frustrating!)  In my bits  of “spare time” I’ve been slowly catching up on blog reading, though.  My apologies to Emilio – he provided a photo for me to write a story for… in September… and it still isn’t done.  I hope to have something on that soon… but I know better than to promise anything!

Flirting With Darkness

10-12 Lava Tube5

I’m submerged,
on the brink of
forever losing my footing.
Arms flailing,
body swaying…
threatening to tumble
from the narrow plateau.

I curl up to absorb
the crushing blows;
the one-two punch-
sadness aches,
loneliness paralyzes…
I avert my gaze to hide
the mottled bruises inside.

I waver between
giving in and fighting back,
succumbing to weakness
or summoning strength;
I taunt the darkness…
I beg it to finally claim me,
yet dare it to set me free.

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I’m not sure how much explanation this poem needs – it seems pretty straightforward to me… but then again, I wrote it :)  Here’s some background just in case:

I wrote this poem a couple months ago.  After several months of not seeing hope or a reason to look forward to another day, I grew tired and frustrated.  In the first verse, I’m balanced on the edge of darkness, in danger of being swallowed forever.  It’s like a force was pushing me from behind and I did everything I could to not fall.  In the second verse, I’m tired- beaten down by sadness and loneliness.  My bruises are on the inside, so no one can see them but me.  The third verse is the contemplation of whether to keep fighting the darkness or let it claim me.

This struggle has been very real and obviously, I’ve chosen to fight it.  With the loss of 2 of my pets recently, I’ve had passing moments of darkness, but nothing like the total immersion I experienced for the first half of the year.  Right now, I feel that little hope is good, but too much hope is a set up for disappointment.  Perhaps the longer I’m in the light, the more I will trust that hope is more than just a mirage shimmering on my horizon.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you have a beautiful Monday!