On Life

FRIDAY FICTION – A Short Story from a Collection

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They can’t all be happy endings.

While my novels always tend to have a happy ending, my short stories do not. I don’t know why they go down this way. It seems to me like short stories—writing in the short form—allows you to write more pointedly, and that, in turn leads sometimes to unhappy little vignettes.

This piece is loosely based on a dream I had. I will say nothing else about it, and I change things around, of course, because it’s fiction as opposed to non-fiction.

This will end up being the first half or third of a short story which I hope to include in my collection of short stories I will publish later this summer.

I hope you enjoy it. And if you twist my arm, maybe it will eventually have a happy ending.

To be continued…

F R I D A Y   F I C T I O N  — R E G R E T

It was cold and rainy for an April day in the south. The trees were swaying as the rain belted down and gusts of wind caused them to become heavy and bend. The dark clouds moved swiftly across they sky, and Sunny jumped back into her car after dropping her four-year-old at preschool. She sat for a second at the wheel chuckling as she thought about Susie who was dressed in her red raincoat with black polka-dots and matching red boots. Sunny made sure she had put her hood up as they walked into the school. Susie, however, insisted on carrying her ladybug umbrella, despite the fight against the wind. Sunny, on the other hand, didn’t even bother with an umbrella because what was the point? She was about to squeeze a workout in and get sweaty anyway, so what harm would a little more moisture do to her?

The intense gym workouts had become an obsession since Jerry left. If she didn’t get one in each day, she felt as if she would go insane, because, quite frankly, a thirty-seven-year-old woman whose husband just left her and her daughter might actually go stark raving mad over the feeling of utter rejection, not to mention the self-loathing that came along with it. Working out to excess simply made her feel better, at least it had won out over yoga and meditation, and she had tried them too.

The gym was just a few minutes down the road from the school, and Sunny put her signal on and turned right into the parking lot. She took a deep breath, grabbed her towel, ear buds, and cellphone, and got out of the car. The rain had turned to a bit of a mist, and she walked through the door. At the check-in, she swiped her card, and began to walk toward the aerobics studio.

“Sunny?” she heard a male voice call from behind her. She recognized the sound of it, but in the second it took for her to turn around, she quickly hoped it wasn’t him.

She turned and saw him standing before her. It had been just over ten years.

“Nick,” she said, more as a statement and less as a question.

“I thought that was you,” he said. There was only a slight smile as he said it, but it was there. Examining his face in that moment, she was able to recall the old expression he wore for months as she looked at him: the way he felt about her then was the way she felt about Jerry now. “How are you?”

“Good,” she lied. For a moment, she considered telling the truth, that she was anything but good, and rather merely surviving. However, she knew better than to do that and quickly focused on how she looked in her cropped, black exercise bottoms, tight top, and sneakers that looked a little ratty. Her hair was pulled up in a high ponytail, and she was without makeup. She thought about the darkness of the circles under her eyes and that the lines around her eyes must have deepened over the years. Of course she had to run into him when she was not looking her best—or rather more like her worst. After all these years, seeing him now in this manner was part of her punishment. “How are you?” she asked him.

“Very well, yes,” Nick said. “I’ve had a lot of professional success, so I can’t complain.”

She noted the emphasis on “professional” success. She glanced slyly at his left hand. It was without a wedding ring, but that didn’t mean anything anymore. Lots of men didn’t wear wedding bands on their fingers. Still, she wondered.

“So what are you doing in town?” she asked.

“Doing double duty. I’ve got a work engagement, and I’m visiting my mom,” he said.

“That’s convenient,” she said. “Double duty.”

“I suppose,” he said.

He stared at her with his intense brown eyes. There was always something about Nick’s stare that made Sunny feel as if she were completely naked in front of him, as if he could see right through her and down to her soul. Perhaps that’s why he wrote about such things. About broken love and the seeming lack of forgiveness. About people who kill each other’s dreams slowly by making the wrong choices. About love gone wrong.

The thought of it all—even after so many years—made Sunny suddenly not care about her workout. She searched his eyes to see if anything remained. He had never forgiven her. They had said it all so many years ago, and yet it still felt unfinished. The truth was, she would never know. She would never be brave enough to ask him.

He was still looking at her, still staring, and with nothing more to say but those few words exchanged. Ten years of words left unsaid.

“Well, I’ve got to run, Nick. Good to see you,” she said, beginning to walk away.

“But you haven’t even worked out,” he said.

“Wrong class time,” she yelled back, heading for the glass double doors, trying to keep it together, her escape route just steps away.

She got in the car and could feel herself begin to pant. Her hand trembled as she put the key into the ignition. Tears fell onto the steering wheel. It was becoming clearer now—now that she had been through the same. She felt his pain wholeheartedly now and understood why he was so bitter and angry and vengeful for a while. She got why someone incredibly like her in all aspects showed up in his stories sometimes. The names were always changed, but she could see herself in the characters.

Sunny looked at her watch and knew she had time before she had to pick up Susie, so she drove straight home and into the driveway like a maniac. She ran into the house and turned into the study where for years she had kept them all—every single one of his books. Did he know she had read them all a thousand times? Out of her favorite book spilled the letters, the postcards, and the scribbled but never said wedding vows. She gathered up all of Nick’s works in her arms. She loved the scent of the books—especially his books—for in some miraculous way they seemed to smell like him. The titles were all there and she placed them on the floor, stretched out on top of them. Regret was a powerful thing. She cried the entire hour until she had to pick up Susie.

Some broken hearts don’t mend. Won’t mend.

(End part 1; Stephanie Verni/2017)


Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

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On Life

Flash Fiction: A 500-Word Short Story About An Apology

Fellow writers–I don’t know about you, but after I’ve written a novel and it takes everything out of me, I need a break for a while. In my time of decompression, I like to stay in touch with the craft by writing short fiction. You never know where it could lead, and it keeps you thinking and telling your stories. Today’s story is about saying your sorry…to the person you need to say it to when an apology is owed. Especially a big one.

Out of the Circle

He always knew he’d be back. But when you make as many mistakes as he did, he certainly wasn’t expecting to be greeted with open arms, or even an acknowledgment that he existed. He might as well be dead, he thought often, as once he made the decision to go, he was gone, and they all treated him as such.

Unreachable. He made sure of that. A disappearing act that was difficult to follow.

He parked the car around the corner, as it was the same car he’d driven away in seven years ago, a Ford Taurus, and he didn’t want anyone to even take note of it or realize he was back on the street. He hated the car with every fiber of his being and wished he had something sportier, but he never sold it. He figured it was a part of his penance for his inability to stay, his inability to commit. Plus, he could barely afford to eat and pay his bills.

He’d hit rock bottom, and he wasn’t really sure, even now, months later, what had been the turning point. Ten different jobs, six different residences in the last seven years, and a host of “change of address” cards made him a certifiable mess. After finally waking up and realizing that he was destroying his own life one sip at a time, he decided that it might be the right time to reach out for help.

Was it the girl he thought he could love with the raven hair who shouted at him half dressed amidst rumpled sheets and liquor bottles strewn across the room? Was it the old man he’d shared a meal with at the dump of a diner on Main Street? Was it the kid who looked at him inquisitively as he sat on the park bench eating a cheese sandwich who said, “Hey, mister, what’s wrong with you? Why do you look so sad?” He wasn’t sure what the tipping point was or how he managed to climb out of the Scotch and Rum and Vodka, but he somehow got himself into a chair surrounded by others who had the same demons plaguing them every day as well.

In that first moment, as they welcomed him into the circle and he said his name aloud and admitted his dependency and why he was there, for the first time since he could remember, he felt less alone.

Twelve months after the circle, he found himself walking up the street to his old address.  The one he shared with her, the brunette with big eyes and a sweet smile. The one with whom he ruined it all. He pulled his hat down a little in case anyone was outside who might recognize him. He’d done his homework and knew she still lived in the house, though he was not sure with whom she shared her life now.

But he was there for a reason, and he didn’t care who was there with her.

He just knew he wanted to see her. That he needed to see her.

And that he needed to say the words he’d mustered up the courage to say for the last twelve months.

His knees were shaking as he rang the doorbell, and yet he knew he had the courage to do it.

He knew he wouldn’t leave until he looked her in the eyes and was able to say he was sorry.

imageStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

On Life

After I Was Dead — Friday Fiction

I’m taking another crack at Friday Fiction with a ghost story. I decided to push myself and try something entirely new. Writing ghost fiction…that sounds fun. I’ve never written a ghost story before, but I do enjoy reading them. The prompt from Brian Kiteley asks us to do the following: Write a story about a ghost who is bored by the immensities of time and timelessness. Make us sympathetic toward the ghost in a straightforward piece of narration…

Here we go…

Boo…

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.

On Life

Friday Fiction – The Beginning of a Love Story

cratewhite* * *

This week’s prompt asked us to begin with one simple sentence, which was this:

The old house, with its wildly overgrown garden, was silent, secretive.

Clearly, the weather on the East Coast this week influenced this story. Featured among the paragraphs are falling leaves, browning hydrangeas, and a good breeze. While it’s a little warmer here today than it is in the story, I was inspired mostly by the scenery and then by a love story. I wanted to give the first line of the prompt, with its use of the word “secretive” some clout; I wanted this to feel a bit secretive, haunting, and sad.

So, here it goes. Here’s this week’s prompt, which sits at 621 words of flash fiction.

old-zinc-galvanized-metal-milk-box-vintage-porch-box-for-milk-bottles-Laurel-Leaf-Farm-item-no-u720168-1

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The Milk Crate

The old house, with its wildly overgrown garden, was silent, secretive. I made my way along the side of the house, the hydrangeas overgrown and brown, as autumn had set in and leaves covered the lawn. The rickety fence along the property line in the backyard with its peeling white paint seemed to bend in places, and the main gate was hanging by its top hinge. The only sound I could hear were the rustling leaves, and they fell gently to the ground, as the constant breeze purred. The garden must have been wild in the summer; the flowers were wilted, dead and devoid of any resplendent colors. For a moment, I remembered planting the freesia and four o’clocks; however, that time seemed to belong to someone else, not me.

How long had it been since I’d set foot on this property?

I walked closer to the large, picture window that at one time had spectacular views looking out over the hills, until the trees grew so big you could no longer see the rolling knolls. I stood on my tip-toes and tried to peer inside. I’m not sure what I hoped to glimpse on that November day, and what had compelled me to visit the house that particular afternoon; it was beyond my comprehension. I had driven four hours straight, alone, nonstop, just to see it again and walk the grounds. I’d never done anything so impetuous ever. Here I was, a Peeping Tom, wrapped up in memories and pain and nostalgia.

My hair blew in the wind, and I lost my balance for a second. The house howled for a moment, as if it were crying, trying to send me a message, and I felt a chill go up my spine. If only I had made the right choice, said how I felt, told him I loved him and loved him and loved him. If only I had stayed and tended the gardens and walked the creek and accepted a simpler way of life in this town. If only I’d not been afraid.

I’d not eaten anything in hours, my stomach too nervously twisted and tied to even think about it, but I began to feel lightheaded. Perhaps I should not have taken this drive today—perhaps I still was not ready. I walked back to the car to pull the apple out of my small, packed lunch that was sitting in a basket on the passenger seat. I walked to the front steps of the abandoned house and sat on the painted grey wooden steps. The apple was savory, juicy, and just how apples should taste in the heart of the season. It was chilly, but not cold. As I looked to my left, looking like an antique, was an old galvanized milk box. It was still there, and I remembered when he brought it home that day and sat it on the steps as if it were the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. “Now we can call this place home,” he had declared. I had laughed at him then.

I walked over to it to see if anything had been left inside the steel crate, curiosity and a need to be close to him running over my more conservative sensibilities. I opened the lid and stood in awe and shock and disbelief. I could not move.

While they were worn and aged and faded, there they were. The stamps looked antique, the ink pale, and I began to go through them, tears streaming down my face. One after another, after another, after another. All of them addressed to me. All of them to me with the same salutation…My Dearest Livi…My Dearest Livi…My Dearest Livi…

On Life

The Witch’s Memories | Friday Fiction

 

WitchThe Witch gathered up her things—the cauldron, the potion mixer, the wide-brimmed hat—and stepped over the woman she had just put into a deep sleep. The Witch left the woman lying on her back on the carpet, her form in an unattractive spread eagle position in her yoga attire, a bit of her belly flopping out of the waist of her pants. The truth of the matter was, the sleeping woman used to be her friend. Not any longer, however. The Witch did not care for her at all. It had finally come to that. The woman could never be trusted, and The Witch had been used for the last time.

Many years. For many long years she had been her friend. Funny how people use you when they know they can get something from you, The Witch thought. It’s interesting how when people needed a potion to help make their kid well or a cocktail to ensure a memorable party took place or be included in all events The Witch planned (and yet ignore the concept of reciprocity), The Witch was always the first one they would call. But when times were challenging for her—when The Witch had problems of her own and needed a friend—her friend could not be found.

Because, you see, that’s the thing about being a witch. Everyone wants to point her finger at you. Someone has to be the fall guy and everyone needs someone to blame. It’s been this way for centuries—witches always took the blame, whether that blame was warranted or not. Human nature has shown us over and over again that people enjoy watching others go down. Moreover, they often secretly wish and hope for it. They genuinely make their minds up about you before they actually know anything of your situation, and it’s mostly hearsay. Gossips and uncaring folks tend to judge first instead of asking if perhaps they could help in any way.

How misunderstood we are as a group, The Witch thought as she placed her paraphernalia in the two baskets of her bike and began pedaling for home. It was getting dark, and The Witch contemplated how there are not enough hours in the day to count how much good she had done. Whatever. It didn’t matter because it was the mistakes she had made in her own life that seemed to constantly be under a microscope, scrutinized and uncharitably condemned. It was always the way. The expression “seek first to understand” was never a concept others grasped with regard to witches, and quite frankly, she was tired of making an effort and getting none in return. It didn’t matter how kindhearted or welcoming she could be; witches would always continue to be the scapegoat because folks are unwilling to either take the blame or share the blame. Why do you think Elphaba got the reputation she did in ‘Wicked’?

She wondered whether the woman—when she awoke in only a few minutes, the most potent part of the potion having worn off by then—would have any recollection of what had transpired. There had been little struggle with the woman, and because she liked a good cocktail, she had gulped it down in two sips. The Witch had followed the spell explicitly—it was the one her mother had passed down to her from her own mother. The potion would merely remove all recollections the woman had of ever knowing and interacting with The Witch on any and all levels. No significant or lasting harm was done at all—just a mere vanishing act any magician was capable of executing. No memories of The Witch would remain in her reservoir when she awoke. She simply wouldn’t remember anything at all had ever passed between them.

WitchQuoteAs she analyzed this situation, it made The Witch angrier. How wonderful it would be for that woman to never remember their friendship, yet The Witch, with her sharp intellect, keen memory, and kind heart, still had to endure all the pain of it. Hurtful memories. The Witch considered lingering memories the most dreadful evil of all—a constant, excruciating reminder of whatever one wishes not to be reminded of in the first place. A penance of sorts.

By the time The Witch had parked her bike, she had come to the conclusion that she was ready. Finally. This time she wouldn’t chicken out. She walked into her studio and began to mix things furiously. There was a maniacal frenzy to the way she was churning the mixture, her eyes darting back and forth, her sensibilities heightened. The cauldron began to bubble, and the smell of rosemary, tea leaves, pine needles, pumpkin seeds, and peppermint filled the air. The scent pervaded The Witch’s nostrils and invigorated her. Then, briefly, she paused, leaning her head over the boiling cauldron, the steam enveloping her face, and she allowed herself to breathe it all in. She turned and filled a test tube with the boiling liquid to the top. She sat herself on the floor next to a pillow and drank it.

Within moments, she slid down, slumping on the pillow, the test tube landing safely on the edge of it. The Witch fell asleep for what felt like days, months, years. When she awoke to the morning sunlight streaming across her face, the birds rambunctiously chirping outside, and a lawnmower purring in the distance, The Witch sat up and yawned.

She stretched her legs and had the overwhelming urge to hop on her bike and ride into town for some coffee. The problem was, she just couldn’t remember where she parked it.

—Stephanie Verni, 2015

On Life

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.

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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.

* * *

On Life

The Fortune Teller—Flash Fiction

Image:
Palm Reading: A Little Guide to Life’s Secrets by Dennis Fairchild
What is Flash Fiction? It’s telling a short story in a limited amount of words. Some call Flash Fiction a story in 300 words, 500 words, or under 1,000 words. There are varying degrees of word counts for this type of writing, and some Flash Fiction definitions include a word count of 1,500 words. In today’s case, I’ve told a little story in 646 words. Usually with Flash Fiction, there is a clear beginning, a middle, and a wrap up. I wrote this story a couple of years ago, and polished it up a bit. Sharing it again because it’s one of my favorites!

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 says, pointing to the line that runs from my wrist up across my palm in a curve ending 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.

 

On Life

Fictography #21 — A Scene in a Bar

FourSeasons* * * * * *

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

The above photograph is of the bar at The Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore. Jenny and I concocted the premise of this story together the other night as we observed some interesting behavior at the bar. Our imaginations went a little wild, and I hope I do this one justice. For those of you who ask me why I don’t write sex scenes, I just don’t have it in me to do it. However, I can lead up to the moment, and allow you to take it from there.

429 words. #flashfiction

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Fictography #20 — A Scene in a Bar

Night falls upon the city.

Upstairs in her hotel room, she examines her long red nails, each one perfectly manicured; however, she finds a flaw, and unscrews the touch up bottle of “Hot Crimson” she keeps with her at all times. Life is too short for chips in one’s nails, for imperfections that can be seen by the naked eye.

Her body is toned from running, yoga, aerobics, and swimming. There is not an ounce of fat on her, and from the neck down, she has the body of a 30-year-old, though she is well past that in years. Her face, though appearing older than her body, has been improved upon with shots of Botox, bi-monthly facials, eyebrow waxing, and nightly anti-aging crème. She selects the backless black dress, the tall heels with rhinestones, and teardrop crystal earrings.

When she enters the bar, men stare, as they usually do when she walks in a room. Her height warrants a look, as if she could have possibly been a model at some point in her life. She takes a seat at the bar, placing her clutch in front of her. When the bartender asks her what her drink of choice is, she says a Martini, and within moments it arrives for her. She looks across the bar, lifts the olive out of the glass, and seductively pulls it into her mouth.

This is her life, the life of a business executive on the road, away from her husband and children. Away from the daily chores and mundane ways of suburban life. She relishes her time in the city—any city; she plays no favorites. As for the men she meets, she is peculiarly selective. Each one is chosen, and each one must be different. Guilt does not play a factor in any of her decisions, for this is a part of who she has become.

The Italian looking guy with the slicked back hair in the suit is the first to approach her. He looks like he’s stepped off the pages of GQ magazine, though perhaps not as perfect as the men one sees there, but still, he is suave. She wears no wedding ring; it always stays back in the hotel room. She has never been with one so dark and alluring. She deems him an appropriate catch for the night.

The bar is dark, with mood lighting, and she’s thankful for that. Dim lighting helps camouflage her age. He sits next to her and she turns to him. She crosses her leg, letting the slit of her dress go all the way up to her upper thigh, her non-verbal mannerisms suggesting what could be in store for him.

About Creative Writing, Fictography

Fictography #16 – Little French Market

 

Little French Market, Historic Ellicott City. Photo by yours truly.
Little French Market, Historic Ellicott City. Photo by yours truly.

 

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

Truthfully, this week I’m on a little bit of a hiatus. On campus, we are down to the last two weeks, and I’ve been inundated with work and grading and attending events, not to mention that it’s Easter weekend. Therefore, I had little time for creativity this week, so for this week’s Fictography, I pulled one out of the archives and dusted it off. I actually took this photograph myself. This cute little coffee shop is situated in Historic Ellicott City, and I used to frequent it all the time when I lived there. I used to love going there, and although I’ve “used my imagination” to embellish what the inside looks like and invented a server who wears a crazy apron, the building served as inspiration for this short snippet I wrote a few years ago. It’s still one of my favorites, as it speaks to several things that can affect relationships: selfishness, heartbreak, and the existence of both good and bad memories. In this particular piece, when I originally wrote it, I was tasked with using a smell to evoke memories from one of the characters, but not the other.

Even if you don’t like the story, you just may end up hungry and “wanting a bite.”

Fictography #16 — Little French Market

FrenchMarketI was trying to get out of Little French Market as quickly as I could without him seeing me. My cup of coffee was burning my hand. I made the mistake of stopping to put a cardboard sleeve on it. He grabbed my shoulder, nearly spilling the coffee all over my coat.

“Oh my God? Is it you? It’s been so long…”

“Hello, Edmond.”

“Are you visiting?” his accent was still thick.

“Yes. I’m in town sorting some things out. My father…”

“Come sit with me! I just ordered something. Can you sit? Do you have time?”

I didn’t want to sit, not with him, but I found myself placing my coat on the back of the chair and easing into it. There was French music playing in the background, and the black décor with dark grey accents felt modern French, even though it was nestled in historic Ellicott City.

Edmond talked about his life, his work, how busy he was, and that he’d moved into a brownstone on Main Street. He was renting the downstairs to a tenant who sold handcrafted home goods and wares. Edmond lived upstairs. On and on he went, as I sipped my Hazelnut coffee, letting the aromas fill my nostrils. His hair was still on the long side, his dark eyes upon me. His mouth was moving at an uncomfortable pace, filled with words that propagated self-importance and indulgence.

The girl behind the counter wore a little French apron with the words “voulez-vous un morceau??” on it. She brought him a piping hot croissant with butter and strawberry jam—just the way he always liked it. The smell of the baked croissant— the mixture of the butter and the cream and dough—grabbed hold. My mouth began to water.

“Would you like some?”

“No, thanks,” I lied. “I just ate.”

My mother used to own this place; it was hers. Back then it was called “Emiline’s.” I spent hours in her cafe, helping behind the counter after school, working on the weekends to give my mother a break, and then later, as an adult, when cancer consumed her, I practically lived there. It looked different then. My mother’s taste was feminine French, with pastel blues and pinks and lots of white accents. I have some of her cupboards in my home now. They are beautiful and they remind me of her.

“Voulez-vous un morceau??” then brought Edmond a profiterole with chocolate and ginger crème—the very same kind I would make with my mother. The scent of hot ginger oozed from the puff pastry. When she could no longer work, I’d make them with Edmond. We made love on the floor in the back behind the counter by candlelight one night after closing on an old wool blanket, our bodies covered in flour and chocolate and ginger. I cried about my mother. He told me he loved me, that he would never leave, that he’d never go anywhere. I found out about Caroline the following week. A month later, my mother was dead.

“How long will you be in town?”

“I am only here for the day. My father passed away and I am settling the estate with our lawyer.” I looked at my watch, smelled the ginger. “In fact, I have to go.”

He was never sorry. For any of it. He still owed me money from the sale of our condominium, among other things.

“It was good to see you, Chéri. Chin up!”

Condescending, selfish bastard. A sense of revulsion pulsed through me. He never called me by my name. Time marched on, but Edmond didn’t change.

I stood to face him; I found the words I’d imagined uttering for years. “You, Edmond, are a selfish ass, and you always will be.”

Customers stared. I snatched my coat from the chair, nearly knocking it over, and walked out, making sure to keep my head high.  The moment lasted all of about ten seconds, but he actually looked stunned when I said it.


French Translation:

“Voulez-vous un morceau??” – Would you like a bite?

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Fictography #15—Finding Paul

 

JennyPhoto
Photo credit: Jenny Bumgarner

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

This week I’m featuring a shot from my friend, Jenny Bumgarner. Jenny and I have been friends for…we counted…over twenty years. We met when we worked at the Orioles way back when, and have remained close friends ever since. From attending Opening Days together, to sharing our Hippodrome Broadway Across America season tickets, to getting together with friends when we can, our friendship has remained strong and true. When I needed a cover shot for my novel, “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” Jenny came armed with camera as we trespassed on a piece of property (don’t tell anyone) to get the shot we needed of a full mimosa tree in bloom. It came out so pretty. We both couldn’t be happier with the cover’s results.

Her photograph this week was shot in San Diego, a place she and her husband lived pre-k (pre-kids). They spent five years there, as Ron worked for the San Diego Padres and Jenny would hold casting calls for extras.

This shot, of the sunset over the Pacific, is so pretty, and reminds us that we need to take some time for relaxation and to enjoy beauty. Sometimes, it’s the thing that can calm us.

The main character of this piece is troubled with anxiety, and it’s the beach and sunset that can calm him. While it’s a little sad, it’s also full of hope, something we all need in our lives.

I tried to keep this one under 500 words…it came in at 476. Thanks, Jenny. Enjoy.

 

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Sunset. The beach was quieter than it had been earlier in the day when people were stomping on its sand, swimming in its ocean waters, or gazing across the Pacific. Some people were relaxing, reading books and magazines, closing their eyes and listening to music, or just sitting and staring, listening to the music nature provides.

Not Paul. Paul was restless and antsy. He would pace up and down the beach, anxiety kicking in so badly, as he’d only had about an hour of sleep the night before. He’d worked all day, and at five o’clock, he tore out of work, drove home, parked his car, got a bite to eat, tossed on shorts and a tee and his Nike cross-trainers, and made his way to the pier.

The beach was the only place he felt he could breathe sometimes. He could find himself again, here. His brown hair, though thinning, blew lightly in the breeze. The smell of the salty Pacific kept him calm. Sometimes at night, when insomnia would kick in, he’d find himself down at the beach—in the dead of night—walking, pacing, stressing, and then, miraculously, unwinding when he’d hear the waves crashing against the sand. The lull of the waves and the lullaby of the sea could cure his mercurial moods.

Despite being on a beach and all the prettiness it afforded, he could still hear the shots ring…still hear the explosives go…pop…pop…pop. He remembered the lights flashing—a bright light—and hearing the men panic. The medic arrived to help; his arm was bandaged, still together, but wrapped. When he looked down he realized he was missing a few fingers. It was then he’d passed out.

Hours later, on a makeshift hospital bed, he recovered. Six did not. They were dead, the medic said. Gone, in one bullet, one grenade, one second. Lives over.

When he’d arrived back home in the States, Meg had taken care of him. She had loved him, had waited for him, had written him letters of love. She lovingly nursed him back to health, but he drove her away. He’d loved her, but he’d driven her away, little by little, and piece by piece. He couldn’t climb out of the hole he’d created. He wanted to overcome it all, but he didn’t know how. He’d loved her more than any woman, and yet he allowed himself to wallow in misery, making her miserable in return, forcing her to leave. You never know a good thing until it’s gone, they say.

He ran up and down the beach as the sun began to set. Tomorrow was another day— maybe even the first day of his new life. He didn’t want to live with regret or sorrow any longer. He had dialed that number yesterday, the one that promised help, the one that was suggested to him when he’d had the breakdown.

What he wanted more than anything was to look at the sunset and feel happy.

That was what he wanted.

 

 

About Creative Writing, Fictography

Fictography #12 — Self-Preservation

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 from a 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.

On Life

Fictography #3 — Unlost

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

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, forcing 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 women 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. A funny, clever, non-existent word, and yet, 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?”