Storytelling

AFTER I WAS DEAD

Photo credit: Daily Mail
Photo credit: Daily Mail

A F T E R   I   W A S   D E A D

The enduring span of lifelessness is enough to drive me mad, as if I wasn’t driven half as mad when I lived in this ramshackle of a cottage. The cobwebs in the corners seem to have lingered for years, and yet, I haven’t been gone that long. The chandelier is full of heavy dust, the curtains look as if they may disintegrate into nothing, and the rug is almost unrecognizable, as it is covered in soot and dust and grime. It angers me that no one has cared properly for this place—this place I tended to daily. I’ve become bored with waiting, and so I decide to visit the larger home on which the cottage is set—the Hamlin Mansion.

After I was dead, I set out to let people know the truth about what happened that wintry Friday evening when the wind whipped and the trees were bent with snow. No one ever suspected that someone could have murdered me on the grounds of Hamlin Mansion, just five steps from the front door of the cottage. Why would someone want the governess dead? I could hear the roars from the folks in the town…she must have fallen and hit her head…the winds must have caught up with her and she did not see the tree limb…it was an accident of happenstance. I grew weary of hearing the townspeople make excuses for my death. It was covered up so well, I have to give him credit. There was little to no bloodshed, you see, so he was lucky in that regard. He struck me in just the right place, and where he became luckier still was that the snow piled so high that Mother Nature neatly disguised his tracks. All for the better for him, you see.

Light as feather, I can walk through walls now, something I only dreamed of doing when I was alive. I find my way to his room in the mansion, to the seemingly unlikely murderer, a boy of just sixteen, with demon eyes and glossy, albino hair. He is still unlike any other person I have—had—ever met in my lifetime. There was always something ruthless and unsettling about his looks as well as his manners. In this he is frighteningly unique. I dare say, he has no remorse about anything he does or says. He is an unlikely offspring to the lovely husband and wife who own Hamlin Mansion, Greta and Theodore Hamlin. This child of theirs is a sad outcome of what should have been proper breeding.

He sits in the corner of the room reading by lamplight, though the room is dingy and unkempt. He is permitted to treat his belongings and his part of the home with a complete disregard, and that is perhaps one of the final straws where I was concerned. As his governess, I did not accept his lazy ways, his cruel retributions, his off-putting mannerisms. It was my mistake that I stood up to him…questioned him…demanded that his studies be turned into me before the snowstorm hit…and reported his questionable behavior several times prior to my demise to the Mistress of the house.

I glide toward him. His water glass is next to the lamp on the table, and I focus with all of my might and lift it, then tilt it ever so gently, so that the full glass fills his lap with water. He screams. He stands up and begins to frantically wipe the water off of himself. He stares at the empty glass on the floor. I’m going to have fun with him, I think. Again, I concentrate and will the glass to float in the air and place it firmly in its place back on the table.

His face goes whiter than it ever has been, and his hair stands on end. He is a most unattractive creature.

“Who are you?” he shouts into the air, a frightful, frantic question piercing the silence.

I try to yell, but realize I make no sound.

But there is a quill pen on the table, and his book remains there as well.

I use all the power I have inside of me to open the book, grab the quill, and start to write. Much to my pleasant surprise, the ink is showing up on the page.

“You killed me,” I wrote.

He begins to hyperventilate, and I stand by and watch. The little brat. The little brat who got away with murder.

This could entertain me for days upon end, I think.

WITHDRAWAL AND THE STAIRCASE

StaircaseToday I decided that I would write a little something. I haven’t written anything creatively in a while, and it’s sort of getting to me. I’m going through withdrawal and I don’t want to go through withdrawal. I want to write something, and while I am far too busy to spend time writing what will be my next novel, I will tackle some short fiction, or what some deem Flash Fiction.

Here’s the prompt that I got from the 3 a.m. Ephiphany written by Brian Kiteley. It’s my “go to” book of prompts I use when I want to write a little something but need a push. The beauty of prompts is that it could potentially turn into a longer story—either a short story or a novel, even. One never knows where it will go. So, I’m ready to begin.

The Scenario: Write a story that starts with one of the sentences from the list below. This should be your opening sentence. 400 words. Go.

The sentence I chose from the list is as follows:

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him.

This sentence has to be my first line. Where will I take it?

Let’s find out.

* * *

The Staircase

He saw her from the bottom of the stairs before she saw him. He could tell it was her by the shadow of her profile that reflected off the wall, her silhouette animated, floating upward as it bounced with her gestures, a result of the large, crystal chandelier that hung as a statement piece just above the middle landing over the polished, white marble floors. The scent of cinnamon combined with the freshness of the greenery wrapped with twinkle lights that decorated the banisters filled the air as Christmas music floated to the ceiling. He had not seen her in many months; at least, they had not come face-to-face. There were times he would position himself in the public library at the largest window in the fiction section just to catch a glimpse of her as she strode by on her way to work. She never knew he was there—just as she had no idea now.

When the shadow turned, he was still standing, gaping, his eyes lurking upward because he did not have the strength this time to walk away. She was only about fifteen feet from him, and that strong Vodka tonic—two tall ones to be exact—might have been enough for him to finally have the courage to say something to her, or at least to remain standing in the spot until she descended the staircase.

For a moment, the lights flickered—three quick flicks—and the music skipped a few notes as the wind outside roared. There was a subtle gasp from the guests at the party when the room darkened that one last time, but they persevered and illuminated the room just as she had begun her descent. He was still looking up.

By the time her foot reached the fourth step, she saw him. She reached for the rail with her right hand, and she paused on the stairs. Their eyes froze, locked in place, neither one daring enough to look away. He felt a pain shoot across both eyes and then ricochet into his chest. He wondered if she could see, actually see, what heartbreak looked like. Her dress sparkled from the lights, from the chandelier. Her lips were red and warm and moist. Her left hand found its way to her chin, yet she remained motionless, peering down the staircase, expressionless at first, but then—he could swear he saw it…he knew he saw it—the very corners of her mouth began to curve upwards, and he believed he witnessed the slightest twinkle in her eye.

* * *

Image:
Palm Reading: A Little Guide to Life’s Secrets by Dennis Fairchild

THE FORTUNE TELLER

“That boy loves you,” the old woman next door calls to me as she sees Nick peel away in his black BMW. She is sitting on her stoop in the 98 degree weather, her dyed red hair in old-fashioned rollers, her socks gathered at her heels in her slip-ons. The look on her face indicates that she wants me to engage in further conversation. We have been friendly since we’ve lived next to each other in the row homes of Baltimore, but have never had a long, in-depth conversation.

“He may, but he’s leaving,” I say.

“Probably for the best,” she replies.

I’ve lived beside this odd-looking woman for almost a year, and she pretty much keeps to herself. She knows nothing of my personal life. Her name’s Mable, and I’ve heard others on the block refer to her as “the palm reader,” though she has no official business. I don’t believe in fortune tellers and have never engaged in any sort of it.

“Come here,” she says. “I’ll show you.”

For curiosity’s sake, I walk down the steps from where I am, and climb the four steps to meet her on her stoop. I’m tempted to see what she knows, trying not to let the tears fall in front of her. Her appearance alone warrants concern; there seems to be a twitch in her eye, and she’s wearing more mascara than a runway model. It looks uneven and gloppy. Her coral-colored lipstick goes beyond the outlines of her lips. It is difficult to take her seriously.

She stretches out her hand and asks for my palm. I extend my hand and turn my palm over for her to see.

PalmreadingShe examines it. “There is a lot of passion, here,” she’s pointing to the line that runs up across my palm in a curve where the line ends at the base of my fingertips. “There’s a great deal of love for that boy.”

I nod.

“However, you will not see him again after today,” she says.

I feel a lump build in my throat.

She continues to look at my hand. “You have a good career, but you’re not quite sure if you want to stay in it. You’re thinking of uprooting yourself and moving someplace far away.”

I get a little chill up my spine. I’ve had this particular thought on and off for the past month, and I’ve told no one. Not even Nick. Not my own parents, or my best friend, Ava.

She focuses on one particular line on my hand, tracing it with her fingertip for what feels like hours, studying it with concerned eyes. She looks puzzled.

“Interesting,” she says.

“What?” I ask, now confused.

“You will travel. You will go where you’ve considered going, and you will be happy.”

“Without Nick,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

“Yes,” she says. “There will be passion again, but only if you go.”

Nick and I have been together for a year. However, I can’t be with him long term, nor should we ever have been together. Nick is unhappily married. He lives apart from his wife, but they are not formally divorced. Nor are there any plans for them to be so. The passion with which Mable speaks is true; it currently exists, but it is a sick, twisted, unhealthy passion, and it has become the ruin of me.

Three weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to work for my friend’s father’s business in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, and have seriously contemplated accepting it.

I scoff at the idea of leaving for a moment, and then I stop. She sees my face, and gives me a crooked, quirky smile.

Mable is offbeat, eccentric, ridiculously dressed, and the oddest person I’ve ever talked to, but something tells me to listen. Something makes me take her seriously.

* * *

BECAUSE IT COMES FROM YOU—SOME INSPIRATION

Whisper

* * *

I don’t believe any writer has 100% confidence in every sentence she writes. She always second guesses. She always wonders if what she is writing is worthwhile.

Earlier, I came across a fantastic quote that I am about to lay on my students and have them respond to in class. The quote is by writing teacher and author Peter Elbow. Elbow says in his book, “Writing With Power,” the following:

“The essential human act at the heart of writing is the act of giving. There’s something implacable and irreducible about it: handing something to someone because you want her to have it; not asking for anything in return; and if it is a gift of yourself—as writing always is—risking that she won’t like it or even accept it.”

If you combine the two suggestions I’ve presented to you, both the quote from MargaretFeinberg.com and the quote from Peter Elbow, you’ll realize that writing is special because it comes from you. It’s a gift from you. You may taunt yourself and question yourself and beat yourself up by saying, “This has already been said before,” but actually it hasn’t. Producing writing that comes from your voice and your perspective is what’s important.

To me, this is relevant and pertains to anything you put in writing, whether it’s a family history, a memoir, a short story, a piece of nonfiction writing, a piece of fiction or novel, or even a love letter this upcoming Valentine’s Day.

Keep writing; build up that confidence, and strive to put those words on paper. They matter because they come from you.

* * *

DEEP, SANDY THOUGHTS

There’s nothing that a little summer vacation can’t cure. Being able to sit in your beach chair and listen to the rhythm of the surf puts you back in touch with the simple things in life that sometimes get pushed aside.

Taking strolls on the beach with your husband or playing Kadima or building a sandcastle reminds you of what’s truly important in your life.

I am blessed to spend time with these people, and their support means the world to me. Plus, they take a damn good photo.

————————

Baseball Girl, A Novel

Francesca Milli’s father passes away when she’s a freshman in college and nineteen years old; she is devastated and copes with his death by securing a job working for the Bay City Blackbirds, a big-league team, as she attempts to carry on their traditions and mutual love for the game of baseball. The residual effect of loving and losing her dad has made her cautious, until two men enter her life: a ballplayer and a sports writer. With the support of her mother and two friends, she begins to work through her grief. A dedicated employee, she successfully navigates her career, and becomes a director in the team’s organization. However, Francesca realizes that she can’t partition herself off from the world, and in time, understands that sometimes love does involve taking a risk.

* * *

facts:fiction

* * *

MY WRITING SPACE

DSC_0826I have to be inspired by my space when I write. Period. End of sentence.

And while I’m still drooling over the notion of a writing shed in the back yard (dream on…dream on), I’m warming to my home office. It is by no means done; I’m still searching for a chandelier to replace the fan, and curtains might add a nice touch at some point, along with a cozy guest chair to sit near the bookshelf. However, we’ve been in the house for eight months now, and I’m more inspired in there than I have been.

The walls are a Tiffany blue, with built-in desks and countertops; there is a built-in bookcase loaded with our books; there is a large window that lets lots of light in; and we just bought a white cabinet to store our kids’ backpacks in–each child has a cubby in each door.

Here’s the office, and where I’m currently working on my second romance novel called “Baseball Girl.” In the movie, “Moneyball,” Billy Beane says, “How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

Honestly, I have no idea. Baseball and romance go together like hand in glove. I like to feel romance all around me, in the things I own, in the spaces I work in, and in the people I love.

To see more about our home renovation and our never-ending quest for Cottage Style, visit Pump Up The Cottage, a blog I’ve set up to document our home renovation.

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DSC_0818DSC_0819DSC_0829DSC_0815DSC_0816DSC_0824* * *

STORIES I LEFT OUT OF BASEBALL GIRL

The book’s been out for over two months now. The typical questions I get are as follows:

1) How true is this story?

2) Did you marry a reporter?

3) Did you date a ballplayer?

4) Did all these things happen to you?

People are always fascinated by writers and where they get their ideas. Even friends with whom I’m close are probably wondering if aspects of the book are true and what I’ve held back from them. (Nothing…well, maybe…)

What is more interesting, as the person who wrote the story, is how many stories I left out of the book (of course to protect the innocent). Seriously, I could tell some tales, but the beauty of Baseball Girl is that it is actually fiction, loosely based on real occurrences that took place while I worked in the sport. There were more stories that I could have told, but some of those stories are treasured ones that I didn’t want to morph into fiction. Some of those need to remain standing as nonfiction.

The driving force behind Francesca’s need to secure the job with a baseball team is that she is getting over the loss of her father; he dies at a very young age, and she is left as a 19-year-old who cannot seem to let him go. Francesca’s story is quite different from my own. My father and I just hung out with my mother on Friday. In fact, when I was about to release the book, my father asked me jokingly why the dad had to die. “Someone had to go,” I told him. I needed a starting point for the story, and didn’t want it to mimic my life too closely. I didn’t want people wondering if it was a memoir. It’s not. I started my career at the Orioles when I, too, was 19, but it was because I wanted to try working in public relations while I was in college. I happened to luck into working for a Major League baseball team. Francesca secures the job as a form of therapy.baseball-backgrounds_89141-1600x1200.jpg

When we read stories, we are always looking for the truth on the pages. But the fact is, there is truth in everything we write, or we wouldn’t write it. Even when we write fiction, there are still stories to be told and lessons to be learned, even if it happens in a fictitious place like Bay City with a team called the Blackbirds.

As for what I left out of the book, I admit, I did leave some juicy things out. Perhaps I’ll save them for the sequel.

* * *

WHAT WRITERS OWE TO THEMSELVES

Creative JuicesWriters—Do you do some of your best thinking in the shower? Typically, my best ideas come to me at the most inopportune moments when I do not have paper and pencil handy, like when I’m commuting or observing something with a cart full of groceries or taking a walk through the neighborhood. Sometimes the creative juices flow when I’m not prepared to greet them, much in the same way a hostess of a party who is still in sweats and inappropriately dressed as her first guest rings the doorbell is not ready.

These creative juices are important, and if we are lucky, they flow directly and consistently into our writing, which led me to this morning’s thought.

What do we, as writers, owe to ourselves?

Admittedly, while it would be nice to be regarded as the Hemingway of our generation or be as prolific a writer as Nora Roberts, I think that what we owe to ourselves more than anything is to tell a story for which we feel some passion, and tell it well.

That’s it.

Tell the story, feel something for it, and tell it well. For the love of it.

Passion

The most successful authors believe in their work, are validated by what they write, and are compelled to communicate this creativity to readers. Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, said, when asked about his novel, “The thing to remember is I thought nobody would read the book—a 500-page book set in Nazi Germany, the narrator is ‘Death,’ you think, how do you recommend that to your friends? I thought no one’s going to read this. I thought, well, I might as well do this exactly how I want to do it, and follow my own vision for the book, and write in exactly the style I want. That’s when it really took off. So, I think half of writing a book is just forgetting that there is even a world that exists beyond the book.” His commentary is spot on, and a good piece of advice to remember when we write.

What do readers want? Readers want to be entertained, they want to be connected to the characters, and they want to feel something for the work when they close the book.

We owe it to them to tell the best story we can.

It takes a special type of person to write—and write continually—especially when we don’t know if five people or five million people will read our work. I’ve said it a hundred times to students, to book talk attendees, and to people who ask me why I write, and my answer is always the same: because I have a story to tell, and ultimately, feel moved enough to tell it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many people pick it up, but rather that those who choose to read it enjoy it.

As recording artist Sam Smith says in his song “Money On My Mind,”

I don’t have money on my mind.

I do it for the love.

We owe that to ourselves.

* * *

WRITE BRAVELY

Write Bravely* * *

I actually am writing right now. I carved out time to do it. And this little saying popped into my head as I started to censor myself. Why I do this, I do not know. Writing should be free, and you should be able to write it exactly the way you see it, saw it, experienced it, or imagine it. It doesn’t matter if the material is funny, sad, poignant, maddening, or beautiful.

Write it. And write it bravely.

Don’t hold back.

***

FictographyWelcome to my newest Friday feature. It’s called “Fictography.” The way this works is a reader will supply a photograph, and then I’ll write a piece of Flash Fiction (roughly 500-700 words) that reflects something about the photograph. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and I felt it was time. Writing Flash Fiction is a great way to sharpen your skills in both writing and creativity. Fun. Fun. Fun.

Rachel's Fictography
Photo Credit: Rachel Noel

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #1 — This gorgeous photograph is provided courtesy of Rachel Noel Reid, one of my former students, friend, wife, and mother-to-be. I appreciate tremendously her support of my blog—and of this new concept. Thank you, Rachel, and I look forward to more participation as the year progresses.

And now, the story…

THAT WHICH IS MINE

Of course it’s not entirely mine. On many occasions, I share it with the birds, the butterflies, the frogs, the crickets, and the occasional deer that call it home. The dragonflies and the fireflies. The bumble bees and the brimstone moths. But it is mine. It was mine all along. And while it may appear to be greedy of me—I’ve been known to exhibit that unappealing quality on occasion when provoked—and it may seem that two waterfalls can certainly be shared, I’d prefer not to. Because I tell you, it is mine. My haven. My harbor. My haunt. My place of privacy, seclusion, shelter and solitude. My sanctuary.

My place of security. My hiding place. The place where I think best.

Passing through, one may admire its rare beauty, its picturesque quality. As a snapshot, it is one that would be Pinned and shared through technology, one viewer after another looking it at from an image cast into the unknowable realm of social media. Round and round it would go, until, well, who knows who would be the last person to see it. It could be endless, continuing on for all eternity.

But it is my place, my little section on this earth, where I can come and face my troubles and joys, the sanctity of it often bringing me to tears.

The sketchpad is in my right hand. The pencil is in my left hand. I find my rock—not his—and I begin to do what I haven’t done in months…in years. I sketch. I sit and sketch, and my hand begins to take over for my mind. I am drawing. Feeling free—freer than I’ve felt in years. My hand continues to move across the blank page, and things are beginning to form. My eyes are looking, but it’s my hand that’s working, hard, in earnest, failing to falter. I’m here; I’m back.

Just yesterday, I’d attempted the same visit, and I’d left before it began. For he was here, occupying my rock, meditating in my space, listening to my crickets and frogs and bees. He did not see me, nor would I allow him to see me, as I was approaching from the far corner of the sanctum. I darted away before he knew.

And then the impending anger that ensued: he had taken everything I had already—did he need to take more? What was left for him to take? There was nothing left for me to give. I had given it all. I had shared too much. He had forsaken me, my love, my kindness.

And now he is supposing this place to be his. Regret shoots through my veins. Why had I shared it with him? Why did I not keep it to myself?

This place. That which is mine.

I stare down at the paper, and it’s done. I’ve created something, and although it isn’t a Rembrandt or a Dürer, it is.

Mine.

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

Kinvara Ireland9302 copy
Photo Credit: Carol Cornwell

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #2 This week’s photograph for our flash fiction segment is provided by my friend and colleague at Stevenson University, Carol Cornwell. She is so talented, as you can see by her image above. She teaches photography at the university, and has taken students abroad to study and work their cameras. I am so happy she was willing to showcase one of her images from her trip to Ireland.

Here is the story I’ve imagined goes with the photo. It’s called “Patrick.”

Patrick

The gate was rusted. The tall grass blew in the breeze that always seemed to come from the north here. Siobhan had been gone for 13 years, yet standing here, looking around from this vantage point, it felt as if nothing had changed.

And yet, everything had changed.

Two years ago, her father died. Days ago, her mother died.

And this was left to her care. It was her inheritance, her property. It was hers to look after now. Or sell.

She knew that it had been in the will, that the land would someday be hers, and that at some point she’d have to come home and settle it all.

She climbed up on the stone wall and sat, set to observe it, and to breathe in all that was around her. The grey clouds blanketed the sky. She had a cup of coffee in an insulated travel mug keeping her warm along with her long, wool sweater coat. It was cool, but not frigid. And although she was outside, where there were no walls around her, she felt somewhat claustrophobic here, confined, blanketed by memories she wished a magic wand could help disappear. Siobhan allowed herself to think of Patrick for a brief moment. She pictured him running through the fields without his shoes, his silly laughter echoing through the hillside, as he’d kick the football and try to get her to play.

“Kick it back to me, silly,” he would say.

“I don’t want to play football,” she said. “I just want to sit in the sun.”

“Too much of a lady for it?” he’d tease. And he’d kiss her on the forehead.

Sitting here now, she wished she had played.

He was dead 13 years this past summer.

She was working on forgiving him for leaving her…for being foolish…for trying to swim when the sea was too treacherous, and for drowning—three weeks before a wedding, and no body ever found. Vanished. The boat he had taken out washed ashore, and days later, there was a mock burial with real tears.

The sound of the ocean was something that could haunt her. She hated it, content to live in the United States in the middle of America, far, far away from any ocean, sea, or lake. The land was comfort to her. But she’d bruised her mother and father by leaving, and she had to live with the fact that she’d hurt them. Now there was no one to hear an apology.

Her life was not here now. It was away from here, and Daniel had kindly offered to come back for her mother’s funeral. He had never been to Ireland. He was a good man, seven years her junior, and she had grown to love him. And he adored her. They were planning to marry in six months.

She wondered if Patrick would have liked him.

He came out of the house wearing his Nike jacket, and sat beside her with his own cup of coffee.

“It’s a beautiful piece of land here, Siobhan,” Daniel said. “We can keep it if you’d like. Your mother would have liked that.”

“Yes,” Siobhan said, as she leaned into Daniel and rested her head on his shoulder. “Yes. She would have liked that.”

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Tower Bridge. Photo credit: Kristin Baione/The Faithful Elephant.
Photo Credit: Kristin Baione

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #3 —  In continuing with the Friday Fictography Flash Fiction feature, our photograph this week comes from a fellow blogger and current student, Kristin Baione. Taken last year when a group of our students went to London as part of an Intercultural class, Kristin shot this photo of Tower Bridge. Here is the fictional story I wrote to go along with this lovely shot Kristin took. Thank you, Kristin, for participating. Incidentally, you can read some of Kristin’s work at The Faithful Elephant by clicking here.

Unlost

Muriel found the bench she’d been sitting on alone for the past five years. It had become her Friday ritual, one that she looked forward to the way she supposed young people looked forward to going for a walk or a run with those tiny speakers shoved into their ears. They certainly can’t be comfortable, she thought, shoving plastic into the ear cavity. Not to mention you can lose your hearing by playing the music too loudly. And yet those ear pods, as the youngsters called them, must bring some sort of happiness to them, for she often saw them smiling, singing, or banging their heads to the music whilst they went upon their merry way.

What a feeling that must be, she thought, to feel merry.

Her 65th birthday was next week, and the thought of celebrating another one alone nearly killed her with each passing year. This would be the sixth birthday—since she was 21—without Gregory. Her son, Alexander, was in Austrailia, and her daughter married an American and was living in New York. Her daughter had begged her to come to America—come back to America—for Muriel was born and raised in the States, and didn’t step foot on English soil until she was 21. Her trip had been a graduation present from her parents. Little did they expect she would never return from it.

Gregory had been the first boy she’d talked to in London, right at the foot of Tower Bridge. She liked seeing it from this vantage point, and for some reason the grey sky felt depressingly appropriate. If she counted how many grey skies there had been on her Friday visits, she was sure they outnumbered the sunny days by a mile.

She opened up her lunch bag and proceeded to take out her cucumber sandwich and her napkin, which she placed across her lap. It wasn’t much, but it did the trick with her bottle of water.

“Excuse me,” said a woman who looked equal in age to Muriel. “May I sit here with you?”

“Of course,” Muriel said, moving her pocketbook.

“So gloomy, eh?” said the woman.

“Ah, yes, rather grey indeed,” Muriel replied.

“I’ve seen you here before, I think,” said the woman. She dusted off an apple with a napkin she produced from her coat pocket, which she then put to use after taking her first bite, as she delicately wiped away the dripping apple juice from her mouth. “Yes, you do look familiar.”

“And you look quite sad,” said the woman.

“Is that so?” Muriel asked. “Why is that?”

“Ah, my dear, only you know the answer to that. I can only say what I see.”

It made Muriel unhappy to know that she looked glum to other people. Two woman forty years their junior jogged by, laughing, as they prepared to stick the tiny earphones into their ears. Muriel looked around, not knowing how to respond to the woman.

“I’m Kate,” said the woman to Muriel. “And I think you need a friend.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” said Muriel.

“Do you enjoy coffee?” Kate asked.

PCBritain“I’ve been known to appreciate a fine cup,” said Muriel.

“My daughter and son-in-law own a coffee shop not too far from here. When you’re through with your sandwich, we can take a walk over, and I’ll treat you to a cup.”

Muriel thought this was a very kind offer, albeit somewhat peculiar. However, she acknowledged that sometimes the best of friends are made when we least expect it. As well, sometimes we meet the loves of our life when we least expect it. Like when she met Gregory.

“Are you lost, Miss?” he had said to her at the foot of Tower Bridge, dressed impeccably in his police uniform.

“I just may be,” she said back, smiling at Gregory, his hazel eyes shimmering from the sunlight bouncing off the water.

“Would you like to become unlost then?”

Unlost. That became her favorite made-up word. From that point on, she became unlost with Gregory for thirty-nine blissful years.

“Come along, now,” Kate was saying to Muriel as they began to walk away from the bench. “They brew a scrumptious pot of Hazelnut. Do you fancy Hazelnut?”

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/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #4 — This week’s gorgeous black and white photograph comes from a former student of mine, Tim Pyle. Tim’s photograph was taken in Baltimore’s Harbor East, near the new Under Armour store. It’s a beautiful vantage point of the Harbor, and I must admit to being very much in love with Baltimore. Therefore, I need to offer an apology to my readers for writing this bitter, angry, and sad story that takes place in this tranquil and lovely setting. I can’t always explain why a story pops into my head; it just does, and the result is what you’re about to read.

Photo Credit: Tim Pyle
Photo Credit: Tim Pyle

Just Like That

The guilt was overwhelming him. He had tied the boat back up, and made his way to the dock to sit and reflect upon what he had done. His heart was pounding. Beat. Beat. Beat. No, it was more like bang, bang, bang. The intense feeling of his heart walloping his chest caused him to not be able to focus for a second. What he had done—it wasn’t right. It was awful.

Everything was cloudy, as things often are after an argument, or the end of something when it’s foggy and uncertain. He pictured them both standing there in the hallway, telling him together, as if it would soften the blow.

How grateful he may be years from now when the dust settles that he hadn’t married her; how grateful he may be years from now if and when he finally marries that he asks his brother—the guy he should have asked in the first place—to be his best man instead of his untrustworthy snake of a best friend.

Two ducks approached—a male and a female—and he was quickly reminded of something he learned in one of his science classes: ducks do not mate for life. He remembered thinking that was a random thing to learn your first semester in college, but seeing as how he considered becoming a veterinarian, perhaps it wasn’t that strange at all. He fully intended to move in that direction with his studies, and then his father collapsed suddenly and was left bedridden by a stroke. Dane had been running his father’s marina and taking care of him ever since.

And now, some six years later, he felt strange and unsettled. Somewhere at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay, it would become an artifact: an artifact that would probably never be found. And even if it were found, there was zero chance she would ever get it back.

Never. It would never happen.

He had dumped it and watched it hit the water and then plummet.

He had a conscience; he knew he shouldn’t have done it. It had been her grandmother’s gold charm bracelet, and it was her most precious possession. It weighed a ton, and it was the one thing she had left behind accidentally. She had called and said she was planning on coming to get it the next day.

And yet by his own hand, before she could retrieve it, he snagged it. Down it went; the second he let go of it, he felt regret.

He hated that word with a passion. Regret. Don’t regret this…Don’t regret that. Now he regretted it all: her, him, and that blasted bracelet.

All three gone.

Just like that.

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The Walk from Santa Margherita to Portofino. Italy.

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #5 — This week’s stunning photograph comes from a friend I’ve known since second grade, Hope Porricelli Stein. Hope and I grew up together in two locations, in Bowie, and then in the Annapolis area (her family relocated from Bowie to Annapolis, and several years later, our family followed suit). This breathtaking image was taken when Hope, her husband, and two children, went on vacation last summer to Italy. This shot reflects the walk they took from Santa Margherita to Portofino, Italy.

As for the story, it’s a romance, borrowed a bit from something I wrote during my MFA courses. Meet Alberto and Sofia, who luckily for them, get to live here. And gravy is what Italians tend to call their red sauce.

* * *

Alberto’s Gravy

Alberto took the walk up the hill with his bag of pasta and breads from il mercato. It was a long and leisurely walk because it was a Saturday, and he had nothing in particular to do except get ready. In fact, it was his second walk; he had already made one trip earlier to purchase the meats and cheeses. He had taken to this mode of exercise more because it was good for him; it helped him clear his head, he loved being outdoors, and he could never grow tire of the glorious scenery that made up his hometown of Santa Margherita.

When he put his key into the door, he could smell the gravy simmering on the stove. He had made his red pasta gravy, a family recipe, earlier in the morning. He was always inclined to let it simmer all day long to bring out the flavors of the basil, oregano, and garlic. His friends raved about his homemade concoction, and he would often chuckle because there really wasn’t any magic to it at all. It simply required the time to blend the pureed tomatoes with the fresh herbs and garlic. It made his friends’ mouths water; he hoped it would do the same for Sofia.

He met Sofia two weeks prior to the day. She had just relocated from Verona, and was getting acclimated to her surroundings. They had introduced themselves at Seghezzo as they waited for an espresso. They chatted, and he felt a pull to her immediately. Several nights later, they dined at La Stalla dei Frati on the hilltop, where the tantalizing views and the warm breeze factored into their evening of romance. At the end of the night, he invited her to his place on the weekend for some authentic home cooking, and she accepted.

Alberto set the table and put his nonna’s vintage gold tablecloth on his pine table. He dressed it with white plates, produced a couple of crystal wine glasses, and placed real cloth napkins at the two place settings. He lit candles, dimmed the lights, and opened the windows to expose the view of the port. It had been eighteen months since Gianna had left him, and he’d only had one date to speak of during that time. He’d met women, but he just didn’t have the desire to date. Dating had felt like too much work, and his love for Gianna seemed to have a mind of its own and lingered.

He dressed in black pants with his favorite light blue button down shirt he’d bought at Armani in Rome and splashed Aqua di Gio on his face and neck. When the doorbell rang, he opened it, and there she stood. Sofia. Her long, dark, shiny hair cascaded well past her shoulders, her almond-shaped, dark eyes sparkled, and a contagious smile ran across her face. He reached to unburden her arms, which were holding a bottle of wine and a collection of flowers.

“Isn’t the man supposed to bring the wine and flowers?” Alberto asked.

“Not if he’s the chef,” she replied.

Inside, she caught a glimpse of the twinkling dining table; next to it, on his small island with a zinc top, he had spread the antipasto across it, with two knives set up on two cutting boards.

“Care to help me in the kitchen?” he asked her. There was an odd comfort he felt in her presence. Sofia followed him, taking notice of the soft music in the background and the candles that were lit around his appartamento. It smelled warm and inviting in there, and she breathed in the smell of the gravy that was simmering on the stove.

“Grab a knife,” he said, motioning her to her cutting board. “Let’s make the antipasto together.”

They sliced the mozzarella cheese and sharp provolone and set it next to the thinly sliced prosciutto. They sliced pepperoni and placed olives in a small dish.

“Prosciutto must be cut thinly,” Alberto said, holding up a slice, examining it while making conversation. “Anything that doesn’t look like this is not acceptable.”

“Agreed,” she said, looking at it. “Perfecto.”

They mixed the red peppers with olive oil and garlic salt, and Sofia sliced the bread.

“Of course, I can’t wait to grade you on your chef talents,” she said.

“Are you not trusting of my abilities in the kitchen?” Alberto teased.

“I am not too worried, if that is what you are asking,” she said, blushing, as Alberto poured the wine. “I’ve just never had a man cook for me before.”

They picked up their wine glasses, and moved to the small patio that overlooked the sea. They clinked them together and stood nose to nose. Having not lived near water before, Sofia found the setting calming. He moved the hair away from her face, and kissed her gently on the cheek.

She could get used to this, she thought.

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Dog

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #6 — This week’s selected photograph comes from my college roommate, former colleague, and dearest friend Elizabeth Johnson. She sent me this picture of a dog named Captain, and I simply couldn’t resist. I needed a little break from the romantic stuff and will save next week’s post for some Valentine love. For now, Elizabeth’s photo of this dog is so cute, I couldn’t help but make him a little snarky.

* * *

Fictography #6 — Captain’s Crap

Honestly, don’t take pity on me. I’ve been fine and I’ll be fine. It’s just that sometimes I want to mope around. They think I’m a lazy dog, but I’m really just moping.

Why? Because I’m sick and tired.

Do you have any freakin’ idea how difficult it is to live in a house where my lovely owner is a cook? And do you have any idea how often my owner likes to cook? Every night. She brings in these bags from the car full of stuff…fresh from the market. She turns on the stove, and then she cooks. The smells go into the air, and my nose—my amazing nose that can hunt down animals and other dogs and other scents—is mistreated by my owner and the aromas she creates. Why? Because I don’t get to eat the food she makes. I’m never allowed to eat the food she makes, and it sucks.

It totally sucks. It’s torture.

Imagine my surprise when the first time she made this casserole that smelled heavenly, and I trot into the kitchen, she puts a bowl of dried up crap in a bowl that smells awful and I’m expected to eat it. I don’t get one bite of the casserole. This is how it goes…every night, every morning. It’s the same stuff over and over. How would you like it?

Seriously.

How would you like it?

It’s no wonder I wear the expression I do on my on face. You’d mope too. You’d be depressed too. You’d resort to putting your head on the carpet at 2:51 in the afternoon.

It’s not a dog-eat-dog world. It’s a dog-eats-crap world. All I get to eat is crap that tastes like cardboard that comes out of a huge bag that smells bad.

I hear these people talking about how chicken sometimes tastes like rubber.

I’d give anything to eat rubber chicken.

I’d give anything to eat anything resembling something that doesn’t come out of a bag.

When did people decide it was healthy for a dog to eat bagged food? How did we animals survive for centuries without it?

Seriously, if you love your dog, give him some table food now and then. And I don’t mean those things that look like beef jerky.

In my latest issue of Modern Dog, it clearly delineates what is acceptable for dogs. I’ve read it. I know.

So, if you don’t want your dog to have a dog day afternoon or to just look dog tired, listen up.

Captain has spoken.

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Paris, France. Photo Credit: Mary Werzinsky Best

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #7 — This week’s selected photograph comes from Mary Werzinsky Best. Mary and I have known each other for a few years, and she is the sister of one of my former colleagues and a dear friend, Chrissie Werzinsky. Both of these lovely ladies were big supporters of Beneath the Mimosa Tree, and I can’t tell you what that meant to me. Mary was a huge help today in getting the photo I needed for today’s Fictography post. I put out a notice on Facebook requesting a photograph of a street in Paris, and within minutes, Mary sent me four beautiful shots from a trip she took to the City of Love. Additionally, at the bottom of the piece, you’ll see a photograph taken from a dear, old friend of mine I grew up with, John Etgen. John’s photograph is taken at night looking down the river to the Eiffel Tower. Thanks for helping me out, Mary and John.
If this piece feels a little familiar, it may be. It’s something I worked on a while ago, but tweaked it for today’s post.
Happy Valentine’s Day to those who have felt love—and heartbreak—in their lives. And here’s to hope when all feels lost.
* * *
The Postcard

ValentineCardEmily rolled over in her bed, the glare of the sun creeping through the sheer drapery that hung from the tall ceilings. As she stirred, she’d almost forgotten where she was for a moment, then she heard the movement of cars down below, a honk here and there, as the sounds of a sleepy city came to life. She stretched. She had just succeeded at sleeping through the night for the first time in a week.

She stepped out of bed feeling unusually peaceful despite what she’d been through over the last month. She’d been lucky to find this flat—small as it were—but she was here. And tomorrow she would begin her new position she’d acquired through her friend and former colleague from home who’d been a French transplant for three years now.

The postcard had arrived yesterday, the day before Valentine’s Day. It was still sitting on the diminutive table next to the telephone that looked as if it’d been there since the 1970s. There was a hint of mustiness to the place, and she’d tried desperately to give it a new scent with candles she’d picked up at the local florist in addition to air fresheners. She had cracked the window a bit to let the crisp air take over as well. He was on his way to see her, whether she approved of it or not.

She’d read it once, its edges slightly worn from its travels through the mail. She knew what it said and had no need to read it again. He would be here in the afternoon, and she was debating as to whether or not she would open the door or conveniently not be at home. She wasn’t a game player, but at this point in their relationship, she felt no need to answer to anyone.

Paris, France. Photo Credit: Mary Werzinsky Best.

She poured herself a cup of coffee. The coffee maker had been her first purchase when she moved in. She was admittedly addicted and relied on two good strong cups each morning to get her going. She looked around and admired the place. She loved the fact that the flat was fully furnished and that she only needed to buy the necessities: her own sheets, two pillows, towels, picture frames for her black and white photographs, and the wreath for the front door.

She could see the postcard from the two-seater table that butted up next to the kitchen counter. She was tempted to read it again. His words. His writing, there on the page, his thoughts. Where did they go wrong? How could it have come to this? All it would have taken was an apology and she wouldn’t even be here; she’d be back in London. He still had six months left on his contract with his job. He would have finished up that job, and then they’d have moved in together, wherever that would have been. They had talked of spending time in America. They had dreamed of being in Paris. Together. The City of Love. The Eiffel Tower.

She had walked the streets last night and seen it lighting up the night sky. She’d felt happy. One apology. One heartfelt, meaningful apology. She would have been able to let it all go. She would have been able to move on. They could have been happy.

Her coffee cup was empty. She walked to the window, opened the drapery as wide as it could go, and looked down the busy street. People were hustling about now, the sidewalk stretched out. She could see the sidewalk stretch until the street made a little curve, and it was out of sight.

Perhaps he would walk up that very street later. He would ring her bell.

And maybe, just maybe, he’d be armed with an apology worth waiting for.

Eiffel Tower. Photo Credit: John Etgen.

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Jefferson Memorial. Photo Credit: Valerie Black Murray.

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

Fictography #8 — This week’s selected photograph comes from a dear friend, Valerie Black Murray. Val and I met through our mutual friend, Stacey Beckwith Haines. I’ve spent many great times with Val, and thought her wedding to her husband, Tim, was one of the most beautiful ones I’ve attended (and it sort of reminded me of my own, therefore, Val has good taste!) 😉 Like Stacey and me who worked at the Orioles, Val works in the sports arena, and when I first met her, she worked for HTS. Now at Comcast SportsNet, it’s no surprise that she has a good eye for things.  She sent me this picture of the Jefferson Memorial that she took, and I couldn’t wait to use it.

Here’s the story that I put with the photo. Hope you like it…

* * *

Christopher’s Cigarettes

Christopher stomped out his first of three cigarettes. He kept them in the pocket of his zip-up sweatshirt. From an outsider’s perspective, he realized it must look strange to see someone who was exercising occasionally stop to have a smoke. It probably didn’t make any sense to someone watching, and it made even less sense to him. He hadn’t had a cigarette in ten years, and then four weeks ago, picked up a pack—much to his own surprise—and he couldn’t believe the cost of them now.

He inhaled his second Marlboro Light as he stopped to admire the back side of the Jefferson Memorial. It made him wonder if any of the Founding Fathers smoked. Considering that Washington and Jefferson grew tobacco on their farms, they must have smoked, he reasoned. Although he did remember reading at one point that Jefferson considered tobacco “infinitely wretched” because it harmed the soil and didn’t produce food. The language stuck out in his mind because “wretched” was such a good word, though highly underused.

No. Tobacco didn’t produce food. But the sensation of inhaling into the lungs felt good.

He knew he had to quit.

Christopher began to jog again. He had been a runner. But now he was a jogger. Big difference. Runners were serious. Runners ran marathons, half-marathons, 5Ks, and ran because it was part of who they were. Joggers were less serious. They jogged to release tension and stay in shape, certainly, but he did not place them in the same category as runners.

And now he was a smoking jogger.

Stupid, really. One shouldn’t take up smoking just because one is no longer with a woman who was one’s everything. Nor should one take up smoking because the nerves of a high-pressure government job can be debilitating and exhausting.

His mother died from emphysema. He should know better.

He continued along his route, passing more closely by the Jefferson Memorial. It was lit up at night—a gorgeous structure. Washington D.C. was a beautiful place, and much of the monument architecture represented that of ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance. He loved the circular dome of it, which he knew was modeled after Jefferson’s Monticello home.

He should have been an architect, not a lawyer for the government. He should have followed his gut. Should have done the thing that would have made him happiest.

The happiest he’d been recently was with Simone. Simone Shaw. He loved her name. He loved everything about her—the  nape of her neck, the curls of her hair, the feel of her hands in his. Christopher especially loved the way she would spend the night, shower in his place, and then get ready there in his apartment, where she would keep her toiletries—shampoo, powder, makeup, and her perfume—because when he’d come home from work, he could still smell that she had been there, her fragrance still lightly lingering in the air.

He had wanted to marry her, but she had other plans, which included taking off with little notice to Canada to be with an ex-lover who wanted her back in his life. In an evening, Christopher’s world changed, and the diamond ring he had given her sitting on his bedside table was proof it was over.

He had bought a pack of cigarettes that night and a bottle of Grey Goose. He’d seen better days and couldn’t imagine any in his future.

When he rounded the front of Jefferson’s stunning Memorial, he jogged in place. He took a moment to look and see and take in this place and this city.

Then, almost without thinking, he jogged over to the trash can, took the remaining cigarette out of his pocket, broke it in half, and tossed it in, deciding to do his best to run—not jog—all the way home.

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Snow. Photo Credit: Kathy Binder.
Snow. Photo Credit: Kathy Binder.

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s selected photograph comes from a friend of mine, Kathy Binder. Kathy and I have known each other for years, and last year I visited Kathy’s book club and got to know her and her friends even better. What I love most about Kathy is that she has terrific taste. She and I are on Pinterest together, and are constantly pinning each other’s pins. Her photograph depicts the snow we’ve had this year, but I took it in a direction of two young friends, one with a disability.

I hope you enjoy this one. Good friends do matter, no matter what age you are.

* * *

Susie’s & Katie’s Snowwoman

Snow pants. Check.

Coat. Check.

Hat. Check.

Mittens. Check.

Boots. Check.

Scarf. Check.

She was ready. It was the first snowfall of the year, and Susie was ready to take it on. She had everything planned out, because that’s the kind of kid she was. Organized. Methodical. Determined.

She had seen a picture of a snowwoman on her mother’s Pinterest site, and she vowed she would make it with Katie.

Katie had never seen snow—would never see snow. But she could feel it and touch it and taste it. Katie had lost her eyesight at the age of three, her mother told Susie when they moved onto the street, and Susie had more compassion for Katie than she even understood.

“I can’t wait for it to snow,” Katie had said to Susie. “I want to play in it.”

“We will play in it,” Susie said. “You are going to help me build this snowwoman.”

“What snowwoman?” Katie asked.

Susie thought for a second, as she was holding the picture of the snowwoman in her hand that her mother had printed for her on the color printer. She realized Katie could not see it, so she took great care to tell her what she was going to look like. “She is going to have a round body, a round middle, and a round head,” she said. “But not too round. We don’t want people to think she eats too much.” Katie giggled.

Katie’s mother was helping her put on her snow clothing as Susie stood in the foyer, feeling quite warm with all her layers on. At the age of nine, the two girls had quickly become good friends over the course of the last six months.

“What is the snowwoman going to wear?” Katie asked Susie.

“I have it all outside,” she said. “My mother gave me a box of old clothes we can put on her. I have a pink scarf with glitter, old clip on earrings, a very pretty hat, and some colorful buttons. I even have a pair of high-heeled old boots she can wear!”

Katie clapped in delight. “Can I put the buttons on?” she asked Susie.

“Of course…you are going to help me with everything. I can’t do it by myself.”

Katie’s mother zipped up the last zip and helped her walk outside the door. “Have fun, girls,” she called.

snowLady
Photo credit: Snow Lady, Betsy Bennett,1996, Egg Tempera Published courtesy of CCMOA

For two hours, the girls rolled and sculpted and created their own version of the printed snowwoman.

When it came time for the finishing touches, Susie’s mother came outside to put the hat on top of the snowwoman’s head, as the two were too petite to reach.

“I wish you could see her,” Susie said, breathless and delighted at their creation. She was beaming with pride.

“I can see her,” Katie said. “Because of you I can see it in my imagination. And I know she’s beautiful.”

Susie gave Katie a little squeeze.

“And now the last item gets added,” Susie said, as she handed something to her mother. “Mom, put these sunglasses on her face. We’re going to name her Katie.”

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Sushi For One
Sushi. Photo credit: Aja Myles

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s selected photograph comes from a student of mine, Aja Myles. Aja has taken feature writing and public relations writing with me, and she is a very beautiful writer. When I asked in class if anyone had a photograph for this series I’m working on, within an hour she sent me three photographs from which to choose. As a sushi lover, I couldn’t resist using this pretty shot she took. And while the story isn’t necessarily about sushi, its appearance offers some solace for our main character, Sandra.

At 380 words, this is the shortest piece of Flash Fiction I’ve written so far on this journey.

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

All Sandra wanted to do was sit in a sidewalk café in Paris with her favorite book, sip a glass of French wine, and watch people shuffle by on the busy streets. She had been saving for this trip for two years—this trip that was going to help her speak the language more fluently. And she didn’t plan on being in France for a short time. No. She would be there for weeks. A month. That’s how much money she had saved. That’s how long she budgeted to be there.

She hadn’t taken all those courses for nothing—she wanted to speak one of the languages of love—the Romance languages. A friend of a friend was from the hills of France, and she loved listening to her accent and the way she was so expressive when she talked, her eyes wide and dancing, her hands moving along with the words, her smile contagious. She hoped she could be the same, maybe evolve into a person who was more physically emotive, more passionate.

Unfortunately, the taxi never showed up and the storm of the century was in its sixth hour. Down it came, the snow, the sleet, and Sandra’s hope of getting to the airport had dwindled earlier this morning from “possible” to “non-existent.” The airport had closed and all flights both in and out had been postponed.

She slipped into her heavy winter coat and took the walk down two flights of stairs in her rented brownstone, she one of three tenants in the building. She wanted to cry. She wanted to crawl into Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables novel and commiserate with those other miserable characters. Sandra was devastated. She had strategically planned this time off. Now she was already missing moments in Paris, and she would have to reschedule her flight when all this white nonsense decided to stop invading her world.

The streets were not all quiet. Snow lovers were outside, walking their dogs, visiting pubs that were open, and kids were shouting in the streets. She walked three blocks when she came across the flashing orange sign: OPEN.

She pushed through the door, removing her snow-covered hat, and the hostess greeted her. “Table? Bar?” she said in her thick accent.

“Sushi for one,” she said. “Seat me anywhere.”

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Trinity Library, Ireland. Photo credit: Courtney Hastings
Trinity Library, Ireland. Photo credit: Courtney Hastings

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s selected photograph comes fromanother student of mine, Courtney Hastings. Courtney is a business communication major, she loves to write and has taken many courses with me. She is also a member of the public relations club, of which I serve as the advisor, and is a member of our honor society, Lambda Pi Eta. She is very involved in campus life, and performs with the marching band as well. She is multi-talented, and appears to be a pretty good photographer as well. When she posted this photo on Facebook, I asked her if it could be used for the Fictography segment, and she agreed. It was shot just days ago, as our students are currently in Ireland, studying abroad this week as part of a class. This was taken at The Trinity Library in Dublin, Ireland. I love the muted effects of the shot. It’s quite lovely.

This story is 603 words. Hope you enjoy it.

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

Callie’s Letter

Callie arrived first, before any other staff member on that cool September day. Her library badge was pinned to her white cardigan, and she opened the door. She knew she had about a half an hour to try to find it.

She remembered where she was…at a table near the spiral staircase, and she suspected it was in one of the books she had opened on the table. The letter was folded into sixths: first in half, then in half again, and then in half one last time. She shoved it into it one of the books she’d removed from the shelf when helping a guest, knowing he was not going to check that one out. She’d had it in her hand—because she wouldn’t dare let go of it—and slipped it into the book so no one would see what it was when she was packing up. And then, she’d forgotten to keep that book with her because of the commotion that ensued; the guest needed more books, the hunt continued for the right one, and then, she’d forgotten.

Surprisingly, two of her other colleagues were in as early as she was. She excused herself.

“I have to go look for something I misplaced,” Callie said.

“What is it, love?” The older of the two asked.

“Something special. I left it in a book,” Callie said. She wasn’t going to lie about it, but she wasn’t going to embellish, either.

“Go and have a look, then,” the younger one said, sensing this was something important.

She made her way to the ladder and stood there and stared. Which one was it? She’d had about eight books on the table, as her guest was trying to figure out which ones would be best for his research. What a conundrum! She did not want anyone else to have that letter. She did not want anyone else to find that letter. She did not want anyone else to take that letter.

That letter was hers. All hers.LoveLetter

What if she stuck it in one of the books he’d checked out? Her heart was racing.

She reached for several of the books and started going through them. There was an echo in the place as she opened and closed each of the books she remembered having opened yesterday. She breezed through the pages, looking for it. She’d gone through three books so far.

She replaced those, then removed another four from the shelves; they were higher up on the shelves, so she needed the ladder to assist her.

The fourth book contained nothing. The fifth book, as well, had nothing inside it.

The sixth book.

There it was, wedged between pages forty-one and forty-two. There it was. How foolish she was to put it in there and then forget about it? How could she have forgotten about it? It was the only thing on her mind. The only thing she had thought of for the last two weeks.

She replaced all four of the books back into their rightful places, and shoved the letter into her skirt pocket.

A girl doesn’t get a love letter very often, especially not one you want to reread and keep forever.

Kyle had sent it to her two weeks ago, and ever since, they’d been inseparable. She’d never even had a date before—not until she met him in the coffee shop. Not until she helped him with his research materials. Not until they found they had so much in common.

It was Friday, and they would see each other tonight. Again.

As well, that letter would never be misplaced again.

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

Glorious Sunset. Photo Credit: Meredith Thompson.
Glorious Sunset. Photo Credit: Meredith Thompson.

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s selected photograph comes froma former student of mine and current Assistant Editor at the Severna Park Voice, Meredith Thompson. Meredith was a business communication major, and I got to know her well from all the classes she took with me. Meredith is a fantastic writer as well as a beautiful photographer, and many of her photographs are used in the Severna Park Voice. In fact, it was Meredith and her talents with the camera who helped me decide to purchase the Nikon I currently own. She has a way of looking at the world through a unique lens, and I’m so thankful she’s allowed me to use her photo for a story today.

This story is 434 words, and the photo, well, you can see it…

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

Self-Preservation

She wanted to remember this moment. She pulled her iPhone out of her pocket and took the shot.

Click.

It was done.

Tomorrow she’d be gone, and she wanted to remember this place, this view, and the rest of the time she had spent here, lovingly tending to cows and pigs, walking the dogs, taking strolls through the grass, and worrying about nothing.

That’s what it had come to, after all. In an often cynical world where dog eats dog and people think little of each other and their feelings, she had escaped here to find a respite with her aunt and uncle. She would forever be grateful to them for taking her in amidst the chaos of her world that had turned upside down.

She didn’t mind waking at the crack of dawn and going to bed—alone—with a good book, one that kept her engaged in someone else’s life besides her own. She enjoyed the languid summer days, with no agenda and no commitments, the stars that seemed to twinkle overhead on every clear night, and the sunsets that drew breath from all things alive and well and interconnected from God himself.

She had disconnected from everyone for the last four months, and tonight only, on her last night, she powered up the iPhone. In haste, she had wanted to throw it away, but she had changed her mind. Instead, it went in a drawer, and today was the first time she had held it since she’d arrived.

Curious little thing. Curious little connective piece of machinery. Had the world gone mad? Had portable phones replaced conversations? Had they replaced having dinner and not focusing on anything but the person one was with? Had they forever changed the nature of interpersonal relations, where a text was better than a phone call?

She had thrown the iPhone at him when she’d finally realized how much time she’d wasted on him…on them…on the belief they were meant to be. Ironically, it had not cracked or shattered.

He probably didn’t even know where she was…she had only told two people, her mother and her father. To her friends, she had written, “I will be going away for a bit. Be back in September.” And then everything went silent. And it was her doing.

Now, she was going back, not exactly back to where she was, but to a new place, with new experiences, and a new job.

She stood and admired the sunset. Four months disconnected from all social connections, and yet here I stand, she thought. One does what she needs to do for self-preservation.

And now, she was all better.

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

Photo Credit: Nick Mamakos
Photo Credit: Nick Mamakos

/FICTOGRAPHY/ def. — The intersection of photography (submitted by readers) and fiction (written by me!).

This week’s selected photograph comes from a current student of mine Nick Mamakos. Nick is a Business Communication major who hails from New York. He agreed to share some photographs with me as he’s taken photography at Stevenson, and I thought this photo was lovely. Nick also happens to be a good writer, and I’ll be looking to see what he does down the road after May graduation. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had something to do with writing…

This week’s piece of flash fiction is 504 words.

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

Michelle’s Adventure

Je m’appelle Michelle.

Agréable de vous recontrer.

Je suis si heureux d’être ici.

My name is Michelle.

It’s lovely to meet you.

I’m so happy to be here.

She was standing at the front door as the sun was rising in the wee hours of the morning, her bags right next to her as she stood and looked out the window reciting some easy phrases to help break the ice. She didn’t know how long she’d be gone and she didn’t know when she would return. The coffee in her hand was growing colder, as she was having difficulty processing what had just happened to her only a couple of days ago, when life was simple and uncomplicated.

She had been in the kitchen making dinner when her phone rang, louder than usual. There was a slight hesitation as to whether or not she should pick it up, and then decided to answer.

“Bonjour,” the voice at the other end of the line said. “ Mon nom est François. Je cherche Michelle Perault. Est-ce Michelle?”

“Yes,” she said. “But I don’t speak French.”

He had a gravelly voice, one that was easily distinguishable, though she had never heard it before.

“Un moment,” he said, trying to find his English words. They came out very broken.

“I am Francois Perault,” he said. It was the same last name as her own, and she wondered for a brief second, if…

“I am your grand-père.”

She hesitated? “You are my grandfather?”

“Oui. I am telephoning to let you know that your père is ill…” the words trailed off, and in that split second, Michelle realized her greatest fears and dreams: she had a father she might never get to know—and a grandfather—she never knew existed. How had it come to this when all she was doing was making French toast with strawberries in the kitchen on a Saturday morning?

Her mother had disappeared two years ago, drowning herself in alcohol and drugs and running away with a man who was half her age and even more stoned than she had become. She never wanted children, as Michelle was made aware of over and over, as she resented the very idea of having to care for a child, though she did it quite badly. Michelle, now twenty-four and on her own, was left managing a life without parents.

What was there to keep her here in the United States? She had spoken to the grandfather as much as she could, their language barrier getting in the way. She wrote down names and telephone numbers while jotting down street names like Rue de la Harpe and Boulevard St-Michel. An hour afterwards, she had her flight booked.

She could see the taxi’s lights come around the corner and appear near the traffic light. She rolled the large piece of luggage out the front door and locked it behind her, toting a carry-on bag over her shoulder. She would be meeting family she never knew existed.

Cela vaêtretre une aventure, she thought. [This was going to be an adventure.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Storytelling”

  1. This is so cool Ms. Verni! It’s such a creative idea and I’m surprised no one has thought of it before. The first piece is so deep, but I like how it’s kind of open-ended, leaving the rest of this woman’s world up for interpretation.

    Your description of what it’s like to draw is spot on – I wanted to be an artist for the longest time, so I know how difficult it is to describe the feeling you get when your hand and pencil completely take over your thoughts and actions. All you can do is watch and wait to see what unfolds.

    I’m definitely going to keep reading these every week – if you need pictures I’ll send you one to do a piece on, just let me know!

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