Shadows of Herself (Fiction)

07-18 Flowers

Sophie squeezed through the creaky, half-opened door of the blue line city bus.  As coins clinked into the metal fare box, her breath caught.  Perfumes, leftover pungent lunches, labor and worn leather boots (all amplified by the latest heat wave) assaulted her.  Even after two weeks of this commute, the odor still came as a shock.  Every time, it brought back memories of indecision.

“Move behind the yellow line.”  The surly driver jerked his thumb over his shoulder.

She stepped across the painted line.  Before she could find a seat or even an appropriate place to stand, the bus lurched forward.  She stumbled and her satchel slipped off her shoulder, bumping a man on the head.

“Watch it!”  He shoved the bag.

She saw him shake her shoulders and then slap her face to make her talk.  Her mother wilted like a bouquet of cut roses.  Brianne’s reaction had been swift; deadly.  Her mother hid the damaged brass lamp and dragged her second husband’s body to the basement until she could figure out what to do with him.  The smell became overpowering.

“Sorry.”  She reached for the smudged chrome bar overhead.  Steadied and easing toward the back, she scanned for an empty space in the crowd of heads.  No one made eye contact.  The blue collars gravitated to one side of the bus.   Across the aisle, the lower-level white collars kept heads bowed, tapping on digital screens.

No one ever noticed her, or suspected her past.  After her step-father’s death, a new self emerged- Julia.  Memories of past selves toppled in her mind like a bumped chain of dominoes.  Dawn… Lynette… Tracee… Anita… Gena… Rochelle.  So many fresh starts, but Bri always managed to stain them with the burden of death.

The bus heaved to a stop and more people crowded in behind her.

“May I sit here?”

The man wearing paint-splattered overalls and a ball cap stained with sweat and dirty fingerprints tilted his face to her.  “No entiendo,” he mumbled.

Sophie clenched her jaw.  It was the same every day, no matter which side of the bus she asked.  “Usted tiene dos asientos.”  She pointed to the empty seat beside him.

He exhaled a weary sigh.  Instead of sliding toward the window, he shuffled into the aisle and gestured for her to sit.

She bit back annoyance and smiled.  “Gracias.”

The man slumped beside her with a grunt.

The exchange reminded her of Mexico, which made her think of Jason and the evening he spent with Rochelle on the Ensenada beach.  He’d come too close to harming her- closer than anyone.  She blamed her vulnerability on the emotions stirred by having recently lost Nate.  She’d loved Nate, but couldn’t make him stay.  When she returned to the United States two weeks ago, Sophie emerged.  Rochelle was sacrificed to Bri as soon as Jason gasped his last breath.

Beside her, the odor of a day spent working outside emanated from the man’s clothing.  The air conditioning choked out intermittent spurts of semi-cool air, so she reached up to slide the window open.

“No.  Too hot.”  The man gestured toward the window.

Sophie dropped her hands to her lap.  “Lo siento.  No entiendo,” she muttered, turning toward the world outside.  She had about 29 minutes before she’d reach her stop.  Her seatmate’s leg relaxed and his thigh pressed against hers.  She scooted toward the window in an attempt to regain her violated personal space.

As usual, vacant thoughts gave way to remnants of past dreams; shards of glass scattered among her trail of selves.  Like a dandelion’s puffy pollen, little by little, those dreams shifted paths and floated away on passing breezes.

Nate.  Instead of them clinging to each other, they grew apart.  Instead of breakfast in bed on their honeymoon, she rode the blue line home from work.  She’d slipped from his loving embrace.  Instead of growing grey together, he grew cold beneath her hands.  He’d described their emotional separation as the result of passing time and neglect, much like the corrosion of metal in the salty mist of ocean air.

Reflecting upon the endings, beginnings and transitions, Sophie decided she wouldn’t change any of her decisions.  The person behind her let out a jarring sneeze.  She cringed when spray landed on the back of her neck.

I wish I would’ve taken Nate’s car.

Despite the vague sense she should be overcome with guilt, of all her choices, it was the only thing she regretted.

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This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is near the limit!) using (1) “It was the only thing she regretted.” anywhere in the piece, AND (2) making some kind of reference to the media prompt, the song Over the Valley by Pink Martini.  The challenge is open to anyone, so if you want to join in, click the badge below to check out the site!

Some of you who read Lost and Found (my Speakeasy story from last week) may notice this kind of goes with it.  It takes place after that story and clues us in a little more on her past.  At the moment, I’m not planning on developing this further, but based on past experience, my plans don’t matter too much… if a story wants to be written, it will nag me until I write 🙂

I’m still in the middle of computer issues, but in the interim I’ve reclaimed our old Vista computer, which had been relegated to the kids for the their computer use.  (Is that a form of child abuse?!)  Sorry, but this OS is not a shining moment for Microsoft.  I’m going to attempt a complete wipe out and reload of my regular computer… wish me luck (I’m gonna need it…)

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Lost and Found (Fiction)

06-30 Ocean Sunset

“When did you know you were lost?” he asked.

Rochelle gazed into the golden-hued waves, tinted by the sun which had just dipped below the horizon. “I simply woke up one day and didn’t know who I was anymore.”

The man who’d introduced himself as ‘Jason’ gave her a sideways glance.

Silence disrupted her trance. “Oh, you meant here, in Ensenada, didn’t you?” She let out a nervous giggle, hopeful the approaching evening disguised her blush. “Turns out I need to brush up on my Spanish. I went izquierda when I should have gone derecha, I guess.”

He laughed. “I’ve lived here for two years and I still get lost.”

“Where did you live before that?”

“Cornville, Arizona.”

“It’s not too far from Sedona, if I remember correctly.” She exhaled a wistful sigh that would’ve betrayed her angst, had he known her better. “I’m glad we met and you knew how to get to this beach. The sunset was beautiful.”

“Estero Beach can be touristy, but it’s a nice place.”

Her gaze drifted to the rhythmic surf. The scents of fish tacos and her new friend’s after shave hung in the periphery of her consciousness; the pull not strong enough to break the oceanic trance. Each wave tumbled onto the sand and slipped back out to the Pacific, only to stretch farther onto shore the next time. She felt as if she could rediscover her soul if she searched the foam soaking into the sand carefully enough.

“Have you found yourself?”

“Excuse me?”

“You said you didn’t know who you were. If you can’t find yourself in a Mexican sunset, I don’t know where else to look.”

Rochelle pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I’m figuring out how to close the gap between the person I left behind and who I want to be.” She glanced at the man beside her, surprised his gaze rested on her rather than the surf. The attention made her a little uneasy. “So what brought you to Ensenada?”

“I wanted to lose myself.”

She furrowed her brow while contemplating the irony of their situations. “Why?”

He traced a finger in the sand, making an incoherent doodle. “I kind of messed up my life and needed a new start.”

“Ah, there’s the story. ”

“Not really.”

“Had to be love or money.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Every conflict known to man can be tied to those two things.”

“What about Hitler’s occupation of Nazi Germany? That wasn’t a conflict driven by love.”

“Actually, it was,” she said, pointing her index finger toward the darkening sky. “It was his love of the master race that drove him to commit atrocities against the rest of society.”

“Conflict didn’t bring me here.”

Rochelle rolled her eyes. “People don’t usually run to another country if life is perfect.”

“So what’s your story?

“My story?”

He laughed. “Repeating the question to stall for an answer is the oldest trick in the book.”

“I suppose you could say it was love gone wrong.”

“I enjoy a good jilted lover story.”

She shook her head. “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” She smiled to take the edge off her words.

“So you came here alone?”

She nodded. “I needed to get away on my schedule.”

He inched toward her, closing the appropriate gap between them.

She edged away, plagued by another flicker of uncertainty. “I’d better get back to my hotel.”

“Which hotel?

“I appreciate your kindness, but I have to go.” Rochelle reached for her sandals.

Jason held her wrist. “It can be a dangerous place at night.”

His ominous tone prickled the hairs on the back of her neck. She broke his grip. “I can handle myself.” She scrambled to her feet and jogged toward the main road, urged on by the sound of his footfalls closing in behind her.

He hooked his elbow around her neck. “I robbed an armored truck and killed the driver,” he said in her ear. “America’s Most Wanted couldn’t even find me.”

She clawed his arm, panicked memories triggering her fight response. She shoved him off balance and fell on top of him, knocking the air from his lungs. She straddled his body, his arms pinned beneath her.

His eyes bulged when her fingers encircled his neck.

“I killed a man with my bare hands.” She leaned forward, her thumbs collapsing his airway. “I can hide another body.”

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This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is just shy of the limit) and (1) use “When did you know you were lost?” he asked. as the first sentence AND (2) make some reference to the photo prompt given on the Speakeasy site (I didn’t post it here.)

The last couple weeks, I did love stories, but this week, I decided to bring twisted back.  Ah, feels like I’m home, haha 🙂

The challenge is open to anyone, so if you’re inspired, adventurous, or just curious, click the badge below to check it out!

Writing a Future – Speakeasy #167

To milk or not to milk... that is the question...
To milk or not to milk… that is the question…

Dorothy skipped into the barn. “Lookie, here!  A looooove note from Samuel Stivens,” she taunted in a sing-song voice. She made kissing noises and then clasped the letter to her chest.

Caroline dusted off her skirt and ran toward her little sister. “Give it to me!” Her left boot knocked over the milk pail.

Both girls gasped.

Caroline stooped to right the bucket. “Mom’s going to be mad. Sophie’s dry and we won’t have milk for dinner.”

Dorothy scrunched her eight-year-old face. “Maybe it’s ‘cause yer tryin’ to milk a bull. Can’t you see the horns?” She giggled. “Or the…” she pointed to the underside of the animal. “Yer lucky you didn’t get knocked silly!”

Blushing, she ripped the letter from Dorothy’s hand. She plopped onto a bale of hay and took a deep breath before slipping her finger under the envelope flap. Sam left for the city two-and-a-half months ago to find work because after three seasons of drought, the ground supported death more than life. Caroline prayed this would be the letter where he sent for her.

Dearest Caroline,

I found a job at the docks. For twelve hours a day, I stack grain. The meager pay barely covers my expenses. It’s not nearly enough to support a family, so I have to withdraw my proposal until such time as I am able to afford to properly care for you.

I hope you will wait for me, but I understand if you cannot do so.

Sincerely,

Samuel

Caroline felt the blood drain from her face. At age nineteen and seven months, her parents pressured her to marry. Mostly because they couldn’t afford another mouth to feed, but she knew the gossip about her marriageability bothered them as well.

“Whatsa matter?” Dorothy patted her shoulder. “You look like you seen a ghost.”

“You wouldn’t understand, Dot.” Caroline sighed. “Sometimes when you’re grown up you have to do things you don’t want to do.”

Dorothy wrinkled her nose. “Then I don’t wanna grow up.”

Caroline smiled. “Neither do I, kid. Neither do I.”

* * *                * * *               * * *                * * *

Dressed in her nightshirt and sleeping cap, Caroline sat at her wooden desk, inked quill poised over paper. Just as she imagined, her father insisted she marry Bart Folsom. His family owned the town mercantile, which her father found stable and honorable. He turned a blind eye to the rumors of Bart’s carousing and dalliances with prostitutes in the shadowed alleys beyond Main Street.

Her protests ignored, Caroline had to accept that she would be wed the next month. At the mere thought of him touching her, acid backed up into her throat. She forced it down.

Dearest Samuel,

I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling and that you are unable to keep your promise. I had hoped that you would find faith to believe love would see us through you would find prosperity.

She crumpled the paper and shoved it off the desk. She felt trapped by the limitations of her words. A part of her wanted so much to condemn him; as if his guilty emotional imprisonment would grant her freedom from her own atrocious future. However, in her heart, she didn’t want the responsibility of forcing him to bear the burden of her circumstances, so she decided to project the illusion of happiness instead.

Dearest Samuel,

I’m saddened that your work is unfulfilling, but I believe, in time, innumerous blessings will be bestowed upon you. The good Lord gives us tribulations so that we may appreciate our times of peace.

You should know that I am to wed Bartholomew Folsom at the end of next month. Although I gave my heart to you, I will dedicate what remains to my new husband.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

Caroline

She folded the paper in thirds and slipped it into an envelope. After extinguishing the lamp, she crawled into bed and pulled the covers to her chin. In the morning, she would take it to the post office. She hoped her letter would free him to pursue a new future.

Loneliness and dread gnawed at her insides.  Caroline knew she had no choice but to accept a life without her Samuel.  She figured in time, she might be blessed with some shade of happiness.  She prayed the same for Sam.

But Sam was never the same again.

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This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (mine is 734) and (1) use “But Sam was never the same again.” as the last sentence; and (2) make some sort of reference to the video prompt, a short film, entitled Writer’s Block, by Tom Gran and Martin Woolley.

The letter with the strike-through lines and the paragraph following it are my references to the video prompt.

Note:  I amended the last few sentences after original posting (but before linking to Speakeasy grid.)  I think it flows better now.  Also, for fun, I wrote a continuation, from Samuel’s POV.  It’s not part of the challenge, but if you’re interested in reading it, click here!

The challenge is open to everyone, so click the badge below if you’re curious to find out more!

P.S.  I have been away from the computer for the last few days, so I’m a bit behind on reading and commenting.  If you’ve visited here lately and I’ve not responded, please bear with me as I catch up 🙂

Eye Contact (fiction) – Speakeasy #166

Terrace view (taken at Monticello)
Terrace view (photo taken at Monticello)

He taught me how to read people’s eyes. He, a student of non-verbal cues, became my teacher. Without him, I might not have noticed the visual embrace of lovers’ extended stare, the broken contact guarding a secret, or the lie harbored in a sideways glance.

As I pinned his laundered shirt on the clothesline, I hoped I had been a good student. But could the student interpret the teacher?

“You know how to tell if someone is into you?” He’d asked on our first date over twenty years ago. He twirled spaghetti around his fork, never shifting his gaze from me.

“Not really.” I glanced away, unwilling to surrender to vulnerability. I focused an inordinate amount of attention on my iced tea, poking the lemon wedge with my straw and swirling sugar sediment to watch it settle like flakes in a shaken snow globe.

He leaned forward, elbows on the table. “Eye contact.”

“Hmmm. “ Realizing my preoccupation with the straw, I let go.

“Aren’t you going to ask how much?”

I shrugged. “I presume the look would be longer than one given to a panhandler and less than a rush hour car crash.”

He laughed. “Eight seconds.”

“Is that a fact?” I tied knots in the paper straw wrapper. I couldn’t let my eyes betray me.

He leaned back in his chair. “From my experience.”

I lifted my gaze to him. “And what do you surmise from our eye contact?” My boldness surprised me.

“If I told you right now, you’d run and never turn back.”

His lopsided grin made my stomach quiver. I tilted my head to the side, wordlessly asking for elaboration.

His hand covered my fidgety hands. “I’ll wait. I know what I want, but I sense you’re scared.”

He had me at I’ll wait.

Over the clothesline, I spied him leaning on the wall of a nearby terrace. Uncertainty crept over me. I feared he’d become bored, or worse, had already found comfort in another’s arms. Until a few months ago, he would tend to laundry with me. He’d shake the clothes and hand them to me to pin, our hands brushing in the exchange. Maybe I should have said how much the intimacy of an ordinary moment meant to me? I thought he knew.

He rubbed his chin stubble with his right hand, thoughts obviously absent from the action. He shook his head. I knew frustration when I saw it. Then he ducked out of sight.

I stared, hoping he would sense my need. He didn’t. I clipped the last white shirt to the line and grabbed the empty basket. I contemplated heading to the garden to read; to avoid him because my fears might be confirmed. Instead, I took to the stairs, following the labyrinth that led to the other terrace.

Before I crossed the threshold, I took a deep breath and imagined courage inflating my lungs. “We need to talk.”

He jerked his head up, obviously startled. “Addy, I didn’t expect you…”

I wanted to cry. Everyone called me Adele. The familiar, intimate ‘Addy’ was reserved only for him. He rose to his feet, standing in front of what he’d been fiddling with. I tried to peek around him, but his legs blocked my view. “Do you still love me?”

His eyes widened, as if my words had lashed him across the cheek. “More than ever. Why do you ask?” He moved toward me.

I averted my gaze to the ground. “You’ve been distant lately and I worried you’d found someone else.”

With his index finger, he nudged my chin. I focused on the flecks of amber amongst the green. “I only love you. Come here.” He took my hand and led me further onto the terrace. “We’ll be married twenty-one years…”

“Tomorrow,” I finished.

He smiled. “Yes. I’ve been working on something special. It’s not quite done, but I think it’s time you see it.” He stopped in front of a stone structure, about two feet tall.

“Oh. It’s nice.”

He knelt. “Look closer.” He pulled me beside him.

I took in the peaks and valleys as my fingertips brushed the intricate details. I gasped when I realized the sculpture was of us in an embrace. “It’s beautiful,” I managed through threatened tears.

“As are you, my dear.”

Our visual connection held for much longer than eight seconds. In his eyes, I read everything I needed to know.

He loves me.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (I’m at 740) and (1) use the sentence ““He taught me how to read people’s eyes.” as the first sentence, AND (2) make some sort of reference to the art prompt, Waterfall, a lithograph by the master of impossible constructions, M.C. Escher.

If you’re diabetic, I hope you have insulin handy.  It’s funny, but I find it much easier to write fear, tragedy and heartbreak than to write a sweet and sentimental love story.  I’m not sure what that says about me!  At any rate, I resisted the urge to twist this into a sad ending and left it on a high note (you know, to really throw you off 🙂 )

The prompt is open to anyone, so if you’re interested in joining the fun, click the badge below!

Liberation (Speakeasy #165)

From the first labored breath, our days are numbered;

from the first hints of speech, our words are squandered.

I should’ve known the very instant your practiced, easy smile nailed

my heart that we- rather, I- was doomed; that misery was our fate before we

uttered ‘hello’.  Still, nothing could have stopped me from desiring your embrace,

or the thrill of your sweet lips searching mine, or the shivers from your hands trailing my

skin; unblemished, uncharted territory. I should have heeded the warnings of my crumbling

defenses. Foolish, to think I could absorb unbridled passion and keep some semblance of myself.

Silly, to think you wouldn’t yearn for another after I succumbed wholly to you (what’s the sport

in that, I suppose.) Naïve to believe the cruel myth of ‘happily ever after’ or the deception of

forever. Ha! The chink in my youthful armor destined to be a constant reminder of how

I should have paid attention to the tale of the moth devoured by the flame,

instead of thinking it would never happen to me. It can. And it did.

I got the first inkling of forever when I acknowledged, we

gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.

A new dawn, a new day,

a new life, is what I need.

They say one ending is the opportunity for a new

beginning. “They” apparently never loved (and lost) you.

Last night, I dreamt of butterflies and peace. Then, this morning, I

knew what I had to do next. No way could I move on carrying the burden of

you. The sun had risen, keeping watch as I buried my figurative and literal skeletons.

The rays thawed frigid topsoil as I burrowed deep, preparing for a long-awaited ‘goodbye.’

You let me go long before I could bring my heart to do the same. How liberating to grasp the

freedom I’d lacked for some time.  You’d know how that feels, wouldn’t you dear?  The waiting.

So heavy was the affliction of love decomposed. Satisfaction fluttered in my soul with each

toss of earth. I delighted in the paradox of the emancipation by six feet under, give or

take (pre-dawn soil was difficult to penetrate, I found) but oh! The triumph when

your abnormally long toes were covered. I was exhilarated by the scent of

pine; the crunch of brittle needles as I walked away… one last time.

With your last labored breath, my days were numbered;

with your last words, my love for you was squandered.

~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

This is my response to the Speakeasy weekly writing prompt, which is to write a piece in 750 words or less (I’m at 421) and (1) use the sentence “We gave it everything we had, but it wasn’t enough.” anywhere in the piece, AND (2) make some sort of reference to the media prompt, which is he song Feeling Good, performed by Muse.

This poem is supposed to be in the shape of an hourglass, but I’m not sure if it will come out right when I post it.  (Sometimes they do, sometimes not.)  I probably don’t have to clarify this, but it is fiction.  Although I  have lost loves, I have never, ever literally buried any of them (or murdered them, in case you were wondering) 😛

The prompt is open to anyone, so if you’re interested in joining the fun, click the badge below!