Blog, fiction

33 – A Short Fiction Piece

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Image by Stanly8853 from Pixabay

The walk to the mailbox was never a pleasure for Carrie. There were no letters from friends or a note from home. Not even an invitation to one of those dinners where they gave you free food in exchange for a too-long marketing presentation about a timeshare she could never afford. She wondered if anyone had invented a combination mailbox/trash-can since most of her mail ended up there anyway.

There it was, the long white envelope of death. Carrie knew what it said before she ever opened it. Even so, she still held her breath like a little girl waiting to see Santa. She slid her pinkie under the flap and tore it open. Her eyes skimmed the page dimming as she read the all too familiar words.

“Thirty-three ‘we regret to inform you’ in less than 60 days. This could be some sort of record.” As painful as it was, this was the only mail she kept.

The breeze picked up speed and shifted directions. It would be raining soon. Carrie sat on the porch swing and watched the thunderstorm building in the distance.

Darren was right. Darren was always right. He was older and smarter and had a good head on his shoulders. She had listened to these accolades most of her life, but especially since her father died her senior year in college. Darren swooped in and carted their Mom off to his place in the city. He saved the day. Again.

It was no wonder he was successful in business. He was cutthroat and a bully. Dad always saw it but Mom never could. When she died only a year later, Darren was named executor and in charge of Carrie’s distribution from the estate.

Luckily, Dad’s sister – Aunt Irene – could see the handwriting on the wall. She deeded her small cottage and it’s adjoining two acres to Carrie and moved into a small condo in Florida insisting she never liked the place anyway. Otherwise, Carrie would have been 25, on her own with no place to live.

There was no mortgage and the sales from her small organic garden kept her afloat. She often felt like giving up, but her father’s words always kept her going. “You’re going to be a great writer someday”.

Someday? After 33 reject letters from 33 different sources, she was beginning to doubt it. She had completed a book she loved but finding an agent and a publisher these days was tough. She thought about self-publishing but Darren made sure that would not happen.

”I cannot let you spend your inheritance on such frivolous pursuits, Carrie. This is why Mom left me in charge. It’s time for you to grow up and get a real job.” She could not manage her share of the estate until she turned 30. That seemed so far away.

Carrie filed her new reject in the filing cabinet, the folder already bulging. Why was she keeping those stupid things? As she closed the drawer, another folder caught her eye. It was simply labeled “Dad”. She pulled it out and opened it, seeing the letters her father wrote her when she was away at school. He challenged her, asked the rhetorical questions designed to inspire her. As she read them, they made her think deeply about her life and her opportunities  – even if they had not done so before.

“Damn, I miss you. Your positive outlook. Your reassurance. Your inspiration.” She stared at the folder. “Why did you have to leave me?”

Over the next few months, Carrie buried herself penning a response to each of the 60 letters. It was therapeutic and made her feel less alone.

*****

As the autumn leaves reached their full color, Carrie walked to the mailbox as she had done almost every day since she moved in. Another letter from a publisher, but this one felt different. Thicker somehow. Her palms were sweating as she tore the envelope open.

The publisher loved the proposal she sent them. The samples of the letters and the responses she had written to her father were compelling. They wanted to see more. They wanted her to work with an editor.

No matter what happened from here, she knew she had found her voice and her way. She now understood why she had received 33 reject letters. For the first time, she had been brave enough to leave her heart beating on the page.

She smiled pressing the letter to her chest. “Daddy, everything is going to be okay.”

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Death of a Dream

This is another short fiction piece I wrote a few years ago.

As I post it here, my thoughts drift to California.

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The sickening sweet of smell and taste of paregoric invaded my senses.  It was the only comfort I found in the scene laid out before me.  It was odd that I found comfort in that observation.  It whisked me back to my childhood at a time when my grandmother rubbed this intoxicating brown liquid across my gums to ease the pain of a sore tooth.  Why could I taste it?  I found myself dizzy as I tried to breathe through my nostrils – I had subconsciously started breathing through my mouth.  In a strange way it helped me think about something other than the fallen trees that crossed the street ahead of me.  It was as if I was alone in the universe just for a brief moment.  That familiar licorice smell snapped me back and I began to see my friends and family emerge from the old town hall.  The dazed expressions choked the remaining oxygen out of the smoke-filled haze.

“What will we do now?”  I looked up at the confused face of my beloved aunt as she spoke.  I had no answers and I knew in that moment she didn’t expect one.

Most of the buildings lay in shambles.  The town hall was one of the few brick structures in town and even it was charred.  I saw tiny lines the tears had left on the faces of the people I loved.  Little clean rivers running down faces covered in soot.

We fought the construction as hard as we could.  This place – my home – was one of the few places left where generations lived and cared for one another together in the same house.  We treasured the rich history of our ancestors and respected all they worked for to create this place for the generations that would follow.  To lose it now – in this way – crippled all of us.

I had been elected as the one to talk to an attorney and try to fight the impending highway.  Why wasn’t I here?  The fire started in the middle of the night.  Butch went house to house knocking on doors.  The weather had been so dry the fire was spreading fast.  There was no time to get out.   As fifty people dressed in their pajamas and slippers walked into the street, they were shuffled into the only place that might provide shelter. 

The town hall had been built on Mrs. Kramer’s old farm so it set back near the lake.  Sam Bishop had donated brick to ‘make it a nice gathering place’.  The fire roared around the building but luckily it withstood the heat – charred but still standing.  Sam told me they could hear trees falling and unusual popping sounds.  No one screamed.  They just huddled together and prayed.  My heart broke as I listened.

It took a long time for fire engines from surrounding towns to reach the town.  It was easily a thirty minute drive during the best of conditions.  The firefighters worked hard to put out the flames.  By morning, the smoke hung heavy and wet.  The smell was overpowering – the smell of dreams dying and hopes crumbling into dust.   I couldn’t help but wonder what my forefathers thought when they first saw this place – a place green with hope and promise was now charred and broken.

The Red Cross came in with supplies.  We had water and blankets and food but there was nothing that could nourish the souls and fill the void the fire left inside all of us.  We stayed in the town hall now supplied with donated cots and pillows.  We continued to pray when we heard the fire was the result of a poorly planned blast from the construction of the new highway – a highway none of us wanted or needed.  We had been told to just accept that progress must continue whether we were on board or not.  This did not feel like progress.

On Sunday, we gathered in the street and resolved to rebuild.  The attorney had found a violation that would prevent the construction of the highway regardless of anyone’s idea of eminent domain.  Some would say it was too late, but we felt differently.  It had become so easy to lose hope.  We were surrounded by sad news of death and destruction from all corners of the earth.  If we could resurrect the hopes and dreams of a few, then we knew we must.  It had been a daunting task for our ancestors and would no doubt prove difficult for us, too.  The fulfillment of dreams is not always a perfect path, but it is a beautiful path.  We lost a lot, but we didn’t lose everything.  Everyone we loved survived and that was, after all, everything.

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The Quiet Storm

As he was lying on the couch, he could hear her crying in the other room.  He kicked off his muddy boots in disgust.  Sam had always thought himself an understanding and compassionate man, but after 5 years of tears almost every night, he was at the breaking point.

It all started a few weeks after their honeymoon.  She cried all night one night, saying nothing was wrong.  He was sick with worry.  The next morning he made coffee and tried to be a good husband.  He caressed her back and asked her what had been wrong the night before.

“I miss my mom”, she said quietly.  “I know you cannot understand because you and your mom don’t get along.  My mom was not like your mom.”

Melody’s mother had been killed in a car accident a few years before they met.  It hit her hard.  As she grieved her mother she spun out of control.  She met a guy, Peter, who said all the right things and meant none of them.  A few months later they went to the Justice of the Peace and got married.  They were together a year when he committed suicide.  Melody never grieved for him.  In a way, Sam thought she hated Peter. He brought out the worst in her.

When Sam met her at the coffee shop that summer afternoon, his smile was met with disgust.  She wanted no part of him – that was obvious.  Sam had been given the cold shoulder before and he wasn’t going to give up that easily.  After a few chance meetings, they started to date.  Movies and popcorn.  Dinner and dancing.  Walks under the stars.  It was so romantic and effortless.  They were married a year to the day from that chance meeting in the coffee shop.  It was a breath of fresh air for both of them.

The church was beautiful.  Everything perfect.  The happy couple flew to the Bahamas for their honeymoon.  It was a fairytale romance in every way.  Five weeks of bliss, then the other shoe dropped.  For the next two years, Melody would cry herself to sleep almost every night.  Sam could never console her – she wouldn’t let him in.  All she ever said was that he just could not possibly understand.

Then one night they went to dinner and actually laughed.  After dinner, they danced their way back to the car and went home and made love on the couch.  That was the first time in two years she didn’t cry herself to sleep.  She curled up in his arms and slept like a baby.  It stayed that way for almost six months.  Then, one night she locked him out of the bedroom and cried herself to sleep.  Sam never had any idea why.  Another two and a half years had passed and the tears came every night.  Eventually, Sam just couldn’t take it anymore and started sleeping on the same couch where they had once made love.

It was fortunate that they never had children.  It made Sam sick to think about such an emotionally unstable woman raising a child.  After all, he was a bit of an expert on that subject.  Sam learned how to tiptoe through his childhood at a very early age.  His mother never cared about anyone but herself.  No, Melody was right about one thing.  Sam would never shed a tear for his mother, nor could he understand crying for anyone for years on end.

Sam’s mind spun almost out of control as he started to think about the possibility that Melody would finally lose herself.  He thought about being tied to a woman he didn’t really know for the rest of his life.  He had said the words, ‘for better or for worse’ but had no idea at the time just how frightening that promise could be.  He knew he wanted out.  That night Sam wanted to scream and run.  Instead, he went to the kitchen and opened a beer.

Sam watched the head form as he poured it into the frosted glass.   He took a sip.  “Oh, my God. That tastes good. Too good.” Sam walked across the kitchen and poured the rest down the drain.  “No. I will not be like my mother.”

He clicked off the light, walked back to the living room and laid down again.  As he pulled the afghan over his shoulder and closed his eyes, he realized the crying would never stop.  He reached over his head and pulled the iPod off the end table.  Sam turned the wheel to his new playlist – Songs of Escape.  He put the earbuds in his ears and drifted off to sleep.  Finally, the crying had been vanquished.

Saturday morning he slept much longer than anticipated.  All the worry and thinking had exhausted him. He walked into the kitchen at about 9:00 am.  Melody was singing and smiled brightly when she saw him.

“Pancakes?”  she winked and spun back around to the stove.

They ate pancakes and drank coffee as Melody laughed and acted as if life was normal.  It was all Sam could do not to stand up and scream at the top of his lungs.  She talked and laughed and moved about the kitchen not even noticing he wasn’t engaged in the conversation.  She was living life with him without him.

“Melody?”  Sam said as she stopped and turned toward him.  “Melody, I’m leaving.  Today.  I won’t be coming back.”

She sank into the chair opposite him. “Why?”  She acted as if she honestly did not know.

“Melody, you need professional help.  I cannot live this way anymore.  I’m a married man who has slept on the couch for over a year now.  It’s not right.”

“Sam, just move back into the bedroom.  I never knew why you left in the first place.”   She smiled, stood up and walked back to the stove.  “Oh, by the way, did I tell you my mom is coming by tonight?”

Sam didn’t know what to say or how to react.  He just kept repeating the words over and over in his mind “……for better or for worse…….”    He was trapped and he knew it.  He had nowhere to turn.

Sam stood up from the table and walked toward the pantry.

“Where are you going?” Melody asked in her upbeat tone.

“Just checking to make sure we have enough beer.  I feel like having a few tonight.”

Melody chuckled.  “Don’t worry, honey.  I’ll pick some up at the store.  Now, what would you like for dinner?”

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Skeletons – A Halloween Story

She was so familiar with the clanging of the metal door that she scarcely paid it any attention any more.  It protected the world from her as surely as her mind had learned to protect Lydia from the world.  Each and every day of her isolation started with the scene replaying over and over in her mind – she saw herself standing by the window.  She took out match after match and set the curtains on fire.  She watched the flames rise as she walked out of the room then shut and locked the door.  That’s when the screams began.  She saw it all in extreme detail.  It was only when she banged her head against the wall that the movie stopped.  The doctors had managed to take that control away from her as well.  It started with straps across her arms, legs and chest that confined her to the bed.  ‘So much easier to protect you with, my dear….’  Yes, she often visualized the doctors as wolves torturing their prey.  One day the straps came off – everything unfurling in slow motion as some potion was slowly and methodically eased into her veins.

“Lydia, you feel better now, don’t you?”  The doctors congratulated themselves as they left the room.

Lydia could only nod; Her world now moved at a snail’s pace.  The minute hand on the glass-encased clock took hours to tick from one minute to the next.  The echo from the slamming door reverberated in her head most of the day.  There was scarcely room in her head for any thoughts.  The movies still played over and over, just in slow motion now.  She could feel the drugs moving through her body and attacking her nervous system.  Her feet wanted to move, but they could not.  She wanted to feel her hair to see if the tangles were gone, but there was no longer any way to move her arms to lift her hands.  Sometimes she could make a finger move which intrigued her as she watched the tiny shadows on the crisply starched bed linens.

Lydia lived her life in 4 hour increments.  That’s how long the slow IV drip took.  Near the end of the four hours, she had moments of lucid thought.  She remembered where she was, but could not quite remember how she got here.  Today was Wednesday.  She only knew that because the new nurse told her.  She watched as the bag was taken down.  She looked at the new bag of poisonous liquid lying on the tray.  She could see the faces of the tiny demons anxious to take flight through her veins.  She felt a tear roll down her cheek – a rather unfamiliar feeling.  She saw her arm and her hand, battered from all the needles and the drugs.  She was defeated.  As she lay there waiting for the onslaught that would follow, she tried to see the nurse’s face.  Her dark brown hair shielded her features, but she did see a wisp of kindness there.  Then a strange thing happened.  The nurse gave her a shot and left the room without starting a new IV.  Lydia’s eyes closed and for the first time in weeks, she fell into a deep sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Lydia woke up, she spun into a momentary panic.  She was no longer accustomed to having thoughts of her own.  She glanced around the room.  It was different somehow.  The glass-encased clock was gone and she was aware of soft sheets beneath her body.  As her eyes managed to focus, she saw the sheets were a pale sky blue.  Something had definitely changed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lydia drifted back to sleep.  She did not hear the sound of the skeleton key turning in the lock nor did she hear the door open.  When Lydia awoke, the movie again played out in her mind.  It was no longer in slow motion, but it also did not have the frantic pace she had once remembered.  She slowly opened her eyes and saw the kind nurse standing by the window.  Window?  There had been no windows at the state hospital.  As the nurse spoke, her features came into focus.

“Welcome home, Lydia”.

Home?  Lydia could feel her heart race.  She saw the scars.  She felt the panic.  She saw flames rising and she heard screaming.  Then everything stopped.  This was no longer playing in her head.  This was real….

“You look chilly.  I thought I’d start a fire.”

Blog, Writing

Unclaimed Freight

Day 153

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Image from Pixabay.com

I was in grade school when my family first moved to Ohio. I was a country girl who was now living in a much more urban space. Our house was in a suburb nestled into a nice community, but I felt out of place and far from everything I knew. People made fun of my accent — even my teachers. I learned very quickly how to change my speech and my dialogue to fit in.

My dad worked in a steel mill in a very industrial part of town. He discovered an unclaimed freight store and our family often went there on Saturdays. To be honest, I am not sure what they were looking for because I am not sure I remember them ever buying anything. Maybe they bought a carpet remnant at one time. Perhaps it was a way to just pass the time.

I have written about this before. For me, the unclaimed freight store was a place my imagination ran wild. There were often suitcases, locked with no key, waiting for someone to buy them. I begged my parents to buy a suitcase, but of course they never did. Such a shame really, because I am sure they were filled with mystery and intrigue.

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Image from Pixabay.com

I was sure that a mysterious woman had boarded a train in the early morning hours. She was running away from someone, or perhaps to someone. Unfortunately, she met a tragic death on the rails, trying to move from one car to another, running from something…or someone. Inside her suitcase or her travel bag were clues that would give away her identity and answer the questions about where she was going and why. Did she murder her felonious husband? Or had she boarded the train with money she had stolen from the wealthy banker for whom she served as a low paid laundress?

I was never to find the answers to the mysteries I conjured up in my head. Suitcases and trunks, often abandoned, show up frequently in my writing. I guess there are some childhood thoughts we never quite outgrow.