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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The Things He Cherished

Image result for photo of a cottage by the sea

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I suppose I’ve always had a fascination for living near the water, and it shows up in my writing. Inn Significant, my latest novel, is set in an Inn on the Tred Avon River in Oxford, Maryland, and features a love story within a love story. There’s something wholly romantic about living near the water, the peacefulness of it all, and the sentimental feelings I have about it come out in my storytelling.

Today, I thought I’d feature the first poem I ever had published a few years ago. I’ve been writing poetry for ages (I think my earliest poem dates back to 6th grade), but I don’t often share my poetry with people, as it can be incredibly intimate and make me feel a little uncomfortable, because it often comes from a place deep down within your soul. However, I’m going to brave it this summer and include some of my poetry in my upcoming book that features short stories and poems called The Postcard and Other Short Stories & Poetry. Wish me luck. I am not entirely comfortable putting these personal thoughts out there, but I guess I have to get over that (which is why I prefer writing fiction–you can hide behind the make believe).

The poem I’m sharing today was featured on The Whistling Fire, which is no longer in existence, so I feel that I can post it now on this blog. It’s one of many poems that will be featured in The Postcard.

Let me know what you think. It’s a sestina poem , and this type of poem is tough to write because the words at the end of each line must remain the words at the end of each line throughout the poem, but in a different order for each stanza as you build the poem. As you will see, my repetitive words are as follows: sea, garden, children, direct, cherish, and beauty. There’s an order to it, and if you like to challenge yourself, I suggest you attempt a sestina.

In the meantime, here’s The Things He Cherished.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

T H E   T H I N G S   H E   C H E R I S H E D,  A   S E S T I N A

by Stephanie Verni

In my cottage by the sea,
hours spent admiring the garden,
I wait patiently for my children
to return home, direct
from the city to cherish
this place. Its specialness and beauty.

Flowers, surf, majestic beauty—
sharp, blue sky against the sea,
it reflects in my children’s eyes; I cherish
watching them work in the garden
my husband’s eyes in theirs, a direct
melding of our souls into those of our children.

My son, my daughter, walk the lane. My children
still seem so young, their beauty,
their clear sense of life’s direction,
wanting to pay homage to their father, ashes in the sea.
My tears water the garden—
this garden that he cherished.

And oh! He cherished
this home, his dream, and his children,
his handprints still fresh in the garden
his loving touches made it beautiful.
The wind, the water. How he loved the sea–
echoes of his voice saying they provided him direction.

Now heaven’s offering him direction
from above—a new view to cherish–
this diminutive cottage dwarfed by the sea.
Will he see our children?
Will he remember the beauty
he created, lovingly, tenderly  in the garden?

My hands are not those of a gardener,
his passion for it—teaching the children
his tricks. How to tend to nature’s beauty,
wanting something to cherish.
Grateful for them, knowing my children
will comfort me in his cottage by the sea.

Memories alive in the vibrant garden.
We’re here. Direct sun sparkles off the sea.
He, at peace. The things he cherished.

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.

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.

A Really Short Story Told in Text Messages—Friday Fiction

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Leaving

She picked up the cellphone. The text message simply said, “Very clever.” It was his response to the previous text she had sent which stated, “It took me all this time to lose my mind…what on earth made you think I would want a piece of yours?”

She could picture him standing there holding his phone looking at her words and smiling. She liked the image of him doing that.

The funny thing was, she didn’t feel very clever in general. In fact, she felt quite inept, singularly stupid, and deliriously daft. She had only known him for a few weeks. What was she thinking? How could she have become so enamored so immediately? This behavior was unconscionable, ridiculous, juvenile. It went against every feminist bone she had in her body—her successful job, her financial independence, and moreover, the ability only to have to answer to herself.

“I’m not so sure how clever it is,” she typed.

“You know u r…and beautiful 2.”

She placed the last bit of stuff into her luggage and zipped it shut. She took a look around at the boxes that filled the apartment one last time, sat on the edge of her bed, and cried.

“Not so sure about anything, actually,” she typed into her phone.

“You r. U r just scared,” it beeped back.

***

This week’s Friday Fiction began with this short sentence prompt: The text message simply said, “Very clever.” I wanted to write a super short one to challenge myself to set a scene and feel a mood.

Nobody Has Ever Loved Me As Much As I Loved Him—Friday Fiction

Photo credit: Mikethemadbiologist.com. Back Bay, Boston.
Photo credit: Mikethemadbiologist.com. Back Bay, Boston.

NOBODY HAS EVER LOVED ME AS MUCH AS I HAVE LOVED HIM

The light grows dim. I have been sitting in the dark for nearly four hours with only a flickering candle on the table. The storm has quelled a bit, but the winds rattled the house until midnight, the trees and bushes bending as the snow accumulated and the winds whistled. It’s four in the morning now, and I realize I’ve been sitting in this chair in the kitchen motionless practically all night long. There is an eerie stillness inside the house that mirrors the uncomfortable quiet of nature outside—serene and undisturbed .

Upstairs, he sleeps. He has the uncanny ability to sleep whenever and wherever he pleases—in airports, on trains, in cars, on the beach, or at a wedding. I’ve seen him nod off in the most peculiar of places, and when he crawls into bed at night, he experiences the most blissful of sleeps, sleeping all the way through until his body tells him it is time to wake up in the morning. There is no need for alarms or wake-up calls. He is restful, peaceful. My biological clock has never allowed me that privilege. I’ve always experienced fitful nights of sleep, replete with tossing and turning and moving about in a frantic, anxious way. Perhaps my utter restlessness has led me to this point, at this early hour of the morning, on this snowy day when Mother Nature has decided that we need just a little bit more of it so that we can experience the full taste of winter.

The power has flickered on and off for hours, and the streets of Back Bay appear picturesque under the lamplights. I see my bags sitting by the doorway. This isn’t the first time they’ve been packed; there have been countless other instances, but this time I’ve sworn that I will do it. I will not chicken out.

I wonder what my friends will say when I actually leave for good. I wonder if they will support me, think I’ve gone mad, or blame my decision on some sort of early mid-life crisis. After seven years together and only a verbal commitment without a marriage commitment, it is time for me to go. Perhaps I thought he’d change his mind, but really, from the beginning, he has always said marriage is not in the cards. I wanted to believe otherwise. I have wasted years of my life, and perhaps even given up the possibility to have a child holding on to this notion. He is not interested in formalizing our relationship. He says he is fine with the way it is. But what about me?

His ability to sleep while I agonize over it all heightens my anger. I only hope that when he wakes, I don’t get sucked back into his charming ways and believe for the five-hundredth time that he might come around.

The situation is impossible. It really is.

The truth is, nobody has ever loved me as much as I have loved him.

***

Readers of my blog know I love to write fiction. I try to write as many Friday Fiction pieces as I can. I use various prompts for these writing activities, and this week I used Brian Kiteley’s prompt called “Loveless” which asks writers to do the following:

Create a character around this sentence: Nobody has ever loved me as much as I have loved him. Resist the temptation this exercise offers for a completely self-indulgent character. Of course some self-indulgence will be fun. Think of this sentence as a kind of mathematical formula. Consider the possibility that whoever would say something like this is unreliable. – 500 words

My piece was almost on the money at 502 words.

It’s so much fun to let your imagination run wild. I hope you enjoyed it.

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Some Highlights & Appreciation

RoberUlcerThis past week began with a bang as viewers were treated to another outstanding episode of Downton Abbey. With Robert’s bloody collapse at the dinner table, we were left wondering if all will be okay in the great house in England. If you are like my family and me and are becoming sadder and sadder with each passing episode because there are only a few episodes left of this A+ show, you can become even more filled with grief because when it is over, you will no longer be able to read the wonderfully entertaining recaps written by Joe Heim at The Washington Post. Each Monday, my father, mother, and I wait patiently to hear Mr. Heim’s snarky, intelligent, insightful, and crafty review of the episode that aired the night before. Trust me when I tell you that if you are a Downton Abbey fan, you will read these recaps and laugh out loud, smile, nod, and know that Mr. Heim is a fan, despite his ability to poke fun at the show or use his own self-deprecating sense of humor to make us chuckle.

Book Launch
Speaking before our guests at the book launch for “Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice.” Stevenson University, Rockland. Wednesday, February 3, 2016. From left: Dr. Leeanne Bell McManus, Stephanie Verni (yours truly), Chip Rouse, co-authors.

On Wednesday night—amid some very serious February fog—lots of supporters came to Stevenson University to support the publication of our textbook, Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice. Chip Rouse, Leeanne Bell McManus, and I hosted a celebration of the launch of the book we co-authored which was published on January 3. Students of our Event Planning course, members of 47 House, our communication club on campus, friends, family, and colleagues came out to hear us give an overview of the book. President of Stevenson University, Dr. Kevin J. Manning, offered the welcome address, and Dr. Heather Harris, Professor of Business Communication, introduced us. There was coffee and delicious cake with our book cover on the icing, and our contributors who wrote case studies were in the audience and received a thank you gift bag. The textbook was a result of two years of work, and we all were so pleased to receive so much love and support from those who were there. It was one of those nights I won’t ever forget.

Group shot Book Launch
Some of our amazing alums and students who attend the book launch.

I just want to take a moment to thank my immediate family for their constant support of my projects—whether I am getting an MFA to help my academic career, writing fiction, or co-authoring a non-fiction textbook, they are right there beside me offering words of encouragement and doing what they can to be flexible with our busy schedules. Matthew, Ellie, and Anthony—I love you all to the moon and back. I look forward to a little down-time this year and to doing a little travel with you.

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So thrilled to be connected to over 7,000 amazing people who write, publish, are entrepreneurs, business leaders, inspirational speakers, and so many more. Having more fun on Twitter these days…join the fun!

To my wonderful social media followers—thanks for hanging in there with me, and thanks to all new followers on Twitter, Instagram, and to the blog. I look forward to spending more time connecting with you and getting to know you via these platforms.

I’ll be getting to work now on proofing my collection of short stories and poetry that will be available soon in paperback and for the e-reader. I put this off while I was completing other projects, but I’m ready to begin the process of editing and publishing.

I hope you all have a great week, and I’ll be back next week with some new posts.

Until then—

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BaseballGirl
Baseball Girl, my second novel. Somehow, book promotion never ends! If you haven’t read my latest novel, pick up a copy! It’s still $2.99 for the e-readers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble…With baseball season around the corner, it’s an inside glimpse into the workings of professional baseball, with a nod to love, wonderful fathers, and a love triangle. Let me know what you think. xx

 

Prettiness & Priorities

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Working is a part of my life, as it is probably yours, too. Why not make our work lives pretty, from what we wear to what we use as a planner or journal? We all need to be organized…but we can be prettily organized.

I don’t know about you, but I’m welcoming 2016 with open arms. While 2015 wasn’t awful or anything I want to forget, it was incredibly busy and hectic, more so than years in the past. Juggling the children’s schedules, my husband’s new job, the writing of a textbook with my two dear colleagues, and teaching a full load of courses among other things made this year go by like a flash. If I have neglected you as a friend in 2015, please know it was unconsciously done. There are only so many hours in a day, and unfortunately, to do lists often take priority over having a good time.

But 2016, I look forward to you…to good times, to family and rekindling friendships, to love and laughter, and to enjoying life to its fullest.

Yes, there will be pressing priorities, but there will also be other things to look forward to this year. I have vowed to incorporate a little prettiness into my life as it combines with my responsibilities.

I hope you get to fold some prettiness into your priorities as well. Let me know what you’ve set out to do, what you hope to achieve, and how little bits of pretty can make your life wonderful.

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Simple things, like pretty flowers, can brighten anyone’s day, especially as the winter months seem drab. Placing flowers on your desk or your dining table is a way to bring some “lovely” into the room.
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Because our home only has one dining area, I try to make ours look nice since it is a place of constant congregation. Our fireplace is the centerpiece in the room, and I always look for ways to make the mantle look cheery.
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Fresh flowers on the entry table combined with a decorative bird cage (we are bird lovers in this family…we still have our two parakeets, Holly and Poe, who celebrated their six-year anniversary with us on Christmas Eve) is simple and welcoming for guests as they enter our home.
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The blog has a new look…and it’s all about simplicity. And prettiness.
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I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing prettier than a teapot, teacups, and home-baked treats. And white roses…my favorite along with hydrangeas.
Dried flower wreaths can break the monotony on the walls of square and rectangular pictures.
Dried flower wreaths can break the monotony on the walls of a home with square and rectangular pictures. This wreath was a gift straight from NYC from my husband’s sister last Christmas.
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A priority for me in 2016 is to get this collection of short stories published and out the door. I tried my best to make the cover different than anything else I’ve published…with a hint of nostalgic prettiness.

Fictography #22—Vivi’s Summer

From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.
From Rome, Italy. Piazza Novona. Photo Credit: Chrissie Werzinsky.

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

The above photograph was taken by a dear friend of mine, Chrissie Werzinsky, in Rome at Piazza Navona. Chrissie works for the Baltimore Orioles, and has for years, which is how we met many moons ago. Chrissie and I have a lot in common; we both love the Hallmark Channel, Pinterest, baseball, our Orioles friends, and novels that make you feel good. Luckily, my husband and I traveled to Rome before we had children, so I got to spend time visiting Piazza Navona. I was excited to see the photo Chrissie took and use it to create a story.

To set up today’s short fiction, people have asked me after reading “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” if I plan to write a sequel. At this time, I have no plans of it. My mother suggested that I write a prequel, featuring Vivi, who is the grandmother in—and an important part of—the story of Annabelle and Michael, and write the background of Vivi’s life. With that in mind, I wrote today’s Fictography post. So, think of it as taking place in the mid 1950s, as Vivi gets the opportunity to go to Italy—Rome—for the summer.

I’ve been trying to keep these snippets under 500 words. Today’s is 469. #flashfiction

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Viv’s Summer

Her English was broken, but Giovanna was able to get her point across. In Italian, she spoke to her niece. “Don’t-a take any wooden nickels,” and “don’t-a bring any strange-a men here,” were the two warnings that Viviana—Vivi—took away from the short lecture that she was receiving from her aunt.

In a matter of minutes, the place would be all hers, as soon as Giovanna and Ricardo left for Capri for the summer. Giovanna had asked her to come, to stay the summer, to get away from old memories and broken hearts, and Vivi had accepted. She longed to separate herself from the suburbs of New York and be back in a city, a vibrant one, and one in which she had often spent time during her summers as a teenager.

The opportunity to return to Rome, however, required her to quit her corporate job, which she did rather abruptly without blinking an eye, and days later, she was flying across the Atlantic and back to a place she would undoubtedly call her second home. It would be a chance to reevaluate her life, and she yearned to find her creativity again—to write, to paint, and to draw. It was not often that one receives the gift of a summer of freedom, and she was about to embrace every waking moment of it.

Her aunt kissed her on the cheek, and Ricardo grabbed Giovanna’s last bag. The taxi had arrived, ready to take them on their own summer adventure. Giovanna pinched Vivi’s cheeks, and kissed her on each one. “There is cheese, huh?, in the box, and bread. You go-a to the market and you get-a whatta you need.” She stuffed a handful of paper lire into Vivi’s hands, waved goodbye, and they were off in the taxi.

Vivi stood on the balcony that overlooked Piazza Navona and let her long, dark hair blow in the breeze. Her aunt’s blooms were full and rich in the flower boxes, but Vivi could still see the action in the piazza. She reached for her Comet, and began to snap photographs, needing to translate what she was seeing into images she would develop herself so she could revisit as time marched on, and her days spent here were over. The vista from the balcony allowed her to zoom in on certain shots and see the world from up above.

The sun peeked through the clouds, and the morning became even more glorious than it already was. Vivi put the camera away, slipped on her Chloe Ballerina flats, put a kerchief around her hair, and made her way out the front door, carefully placing the keys to the place in her small clutch. For a moment, she felt like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday,” off to participate in her own adventure.

 

 

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.

 

 

Fictography #14 — A Love Letter From Mitchell Henry of Kylemore Castle, Connemara, Ireland

Kylemore Abbey. Photo Credit: Emily Maranto
Kylemore Abbey. Photo Credit: Emily Maranto

 

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

How spectacular is this castle? Over spring break, a group of students studied abroad in Ireland. One such student was Emily Maranto, a senior at Stevenson University. Emily has taken several writing courses with me, and as well, she’s got a special place in my heart because she was fortunate, as was I years and years prior, to intern at the Orioles. The students had so much fun on their trip, and last weekend, I was told the story of Kylemore Castle and its history, once the home of Mitchell Henry who built it from 1863-1868, and ended up not spending much time in it after the death of his wife, Margaret, in 1875. She had contracted a fever while in Egypt and passed away at the age of 50. Since 1920, the castle has been the home to Benedictine nuns, who have resided in it ever since.

Much like writer Philippa Gregory writes historical fiction (I loved The Other Boleyn Girl and couldn’t put it down), I decided to try my hand at historical fiction, writing from Mitchell Henry’s perspective after the passing of his wife. Much the same as Joe DiMaggio placed a rose on Marilyn Monroe’s grave every day after she died, I imagine Mitchell writing a letter each day to his dearly departed Margaret.

I hope you enjoy today’s fictography, and thank you, Emily, for the sensational photograph.

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MitchellLetter1

For ease of reading, the printed text of the letter is below:

My Darling Margaret,

It’s been 212 days since your passing. The days grow increasing longer, my dear, as I must endure your interminable absence. I find myself walking the paths we’ve walked together, taking a turn in the garden where your assortment of roses have awakened in glorious blooms, the colors so vibrant, my dearest, they heighten the senses, and I am constantly in awe of their perfection. Each petal is so delicate, yet so sure of its posturing that I almost feel neglectful of them as a whole, for I cannot possibly examine each one individually. And so I admire them as a whole, as you would have done, pleased with their expressions and their vivacity.

The garden has become a place of peace for me, as I find myself lingering with a book or stopping to pray and ask for forgiveness. Had I not insisted on you journeying with me to Egypt, I might still feel your presence, nestled next to me, hearing your glorious laugh as you tickle the nape of my neck—a gesture I so miss and will likely never experience again.

The way that the children look, still devastated and missing their mum, breaks my heart, and so, my dear, I have decided that I will not live here much longer. I will go back to Warwickshire and work in Parliament where I will throw myself into my work, allowing an occupation I find rewarding to envelop me with the hope that it will be able to mask a broken heart. I am not confident it will work.

Progress is being made on your church; I have set it slightly off the main grounds, one mile from Kylemore, where you and I will rest in peace together, forever, into a sleepy yet blissful eternity.

How I long to see you one day again, my dearest, loveliest, sweetest Margaret.

Yours Faithfully with Love Forever,

Mitchell

 

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?”

Fiction Friday: A Still Untitled Work in Progress. A Short Story.

Untitled-14The idea for this short story has been brewing in my brain for a while, so I decided to finally draft something for it. Without saying too much, it’s about a writer (author) who suffers from agoraphobia, which leads her to live the life of a recluse, and has possibly been the cause of her failed relationships. I have no idea what to call it, and I’m not even sure I’ll continue with the story, but I decided to post what I have completed so far just to illustrate that sometimes we like what we’ve written, sometimes we hate what we’ve written, and sometimes we just don’t know what to do with what we’ve written.

Who the hell knows where this will go…

An Untitled Work in Progress

Two failed marriages and a recent breakup with the man she thought for a brief moment could have been her next husband, Lillian shook the thought of romance off and said to herself softly, “Who the hell needs ‘em anyway.” She was walking brusquely to collect her luggage at baggage claim thinking, as her heels clicked the sterile airport floor, that she didn’t need one more item of baggage. She made her way to the car rental desk, and after going over the copious details of the terms, filled out the necessary paperwork wondering if they were going to ask her to sign her rental agreement with her own blood. She handed over the paperwork and the car rep on the lot looked it the vehicle with a discernable eye, making a note that there was a ding near the left front wheel. After experiencing the tedious torture of the rep’s thoroughness, she finally escaped the exceedingly boring exercise and climbed into the Chrysler convertible she’d reserved for herself. If she was going to do this, she thought, she was going to do it with the wind in her hair.

The airport in Hyannis was only a few miles from the Barnes & Noble at the Cape Cod Mall. She hadn’t done a book signing in ten years, or much else. She wasn’t exactly a recluse because there were places she could go and feel comfortable, but she’d heard the whispers, and the fact that she rarely ventured into uncertainly indicated it was true. It had taken her years to understand how desperate the problem was. She thought it was great that people enjoyed her novels, but she couldn’t understand the adulation that came with it. She wasn’t curing cancer; she wasn’t exploring the universe. She was a writer. Nothing more.

She’d been living in a home in Cape May that sat one block from the ocean. People in the town knew who she was, but respected her privacy. They were good like that. Only occasionally was she asked to lend her support a local hospital or town event. And she usually obliged; it just wasn’t the norm.

When she pulled up, she checked her makeup in the rearview mirror. God, she thought, I’m forty-five. Alone in the world, except for Mrs. Phelps. Her little Golden Retriever enjoyed the water and liked being wet. Most dogs hated it, and she couldn’t very well name her female dog Michael Phelps, so she opted to name her pooch after his mother.

As she approached the front door to the place, she could see a line had formed. She felt her heart panic. She had agreed to do a short talk—twenty minutes—and then would take questions from the audience. The store had set up an area for the discussion, and she found her contact person right away.

There was always a sense of panic that overcame her when she stepped into these situations. Her psychologist had long ago diagnosed it as agoraphobia, or the fear of wide open spaces. Little by little, he had helped her come to grips with this malady using a treament know as systematic desensitization. Over and over again she had to put herself in situations that made her feel unsafe or uncomfortable, and she’d had to work through her feelings. This whole day had been a test to see how far she’d come.

B&NHyannis
B&N, Hyannis. Photo credit: Barnes & Noble.

So far, she’d made it through with flying colors. From the flight to the car rental, and now to Barnes & Noble. The crowd didn’t scare her, and she felt pleasantly surprised.

As the Barnes & Noble rep helped her get situated in the small speaking area, she asked for a bottle of water. She was starting to get warm. Being back here with all these familiar places, made her feel comfortable, but at the same time, slightly unnerved. She hadn’t been home in years. This was her hometown. Hyannis.

The rep had the desk make an announcement that today’s guest author would be speaking in five minutes. She pulled out her notes and glanced over them one last time. She didn’t know why she even bothered; she knew this talk by heart. Still, she could feel herself grow slightly anxious, and she wondered if she’d done a stupid thing by agreeing to put herself in this situation: a situation where she could fail.

“Are you okay?” the rep asked.

“Fine,” she said. “Why?”

“Just checking to see if you need anything,” the rep said. She was busily attending to her and arranging her speaking area, making sure she had everything she needed.

“I’m good,” she said, “I just haven’t given a talk in a long time.”

The rep smiled and relaxed a little. Lillian took another swig of water and a deep breath.

“Don’t worry. They just want to hear about you and your writing. Ready?” the rep asked.

“Ready,” Lillian said.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome. It’s been many years since she’s been here with us, but we’re so glad to have her back. Please welcome Lillian Brannon.”

When she heard the applause, she fought the fear. She smiled. She pretended she hadn’t ever been struck with a phobia that had taken over her life for many years. She stepped up to the podium and small microphone, and she began to talk.

“It has been quite a lot of years since I’ve been here. Hyannis is my home, and I’ve missed it. I’ve rented myself a little convertible that I’m going to drive along the coast. I’m excited to feel the wind in my hair and smell the air of Cape Cod,” she said.

A strange sense of calm engulfed her. Could it be she could actually do this?

When she looked up, she saw warm faces looking at her. They were smiling, encouraging.

“I started writing when I was very young. My parents told me to enter my very badly written short story into the 5th grade writing contest. I didn’t even get an honorable mention,” she said. “But for some reason, I never stopped writing. I just kept doing it, until I knew for certain it was what my life’s work might be.”

She reached for her most recent novel, which the rep had set aside for her to read aloud.

As she reached for it, she saw him out of the corner of her eye. He was leaning against a shelf of books, his head slightly cocked. She did a double-take, and he knew she saw him. Twenty-five years later, but he guessed she’d feel he was there. His instincts told him she’d notice he was there, among the members of the somewhat dense crowd that had amassed. He was right.

Panic could have overtaken her, but it didn’t. Instead, a calmness consumed her, and she read an excerpt aloud to the group.

And she read it well.