War

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It was a gruesome sight.  One none of the people present would forget.  A woman, lying in the street, neck twisted, eyes veiny and bulged in terror, arms bent backward at an unnatural angle.  The smell of burnt rubber and smoke.  The distant sound of sirens.  It was a night they would all come back to, years and years later, trying to remember why things happened the way they did, while the true culprit still walked among them, in plain sight, as she always had.

One Hour Ago…

Amie

She pushed open the heavy double doors with a sigh and rushed down the corridor.   Late, as usual.   Maybe if she hadn’t sat for so long in the car, composing and the deleting a text to a man she very much wanted to hear from again, she wouldn’t have to rush.  It had been three days since their perfect first meeting and she still hadn’t heard from him.  Was it too soon to text him? Was it too late?  She didn’t understand the rules any longer.

She tripped over her ballet flat-wearing feet as she rushed into the crowded classroom.  It was Parent Night.  Normally she avoided this place like it was Chernobyl, all of the petty mommy politics and dumb competition made her crazy.  She’d volunteered for a grand total of one school event since she’d enrolled Simone here a year ago.  If these women wanted to squabble over whose child was in what percentile or scored higher on which test, have at it.  It wasn’t for her.  But, Parent Night was important.  She wanted to know how her darling daughter was doing.  She wanted to show her face to her teacher and the principal.

She gathered her long locs and piled them on top of her head,  pulling a bobby pin from her purse and pinning them in what she hoped was a somewhat neat bun.  She slid into a seat at the end of the last row, just before the teacher began to address the room.  She congratulated herself for arriving in the nick of time, not noticing the pair of dagger-shaped eyes pointed in her direction.

Sophia

“Look who decided to show up,” Sophia whispered to her seatmate, Fern.  Fern’s brow furrowed.  Sophia knew she wanted to keep her attention on the teacher at the front of the room, but Sophia wasn’t one to keep quiet when there was juicy gossip to dish out.  “It’s her.  Amie.”  Sophia spit the name out as though it were a disease.

“Oh, don’t worry about her,” shushed Fern.  “Tonight is about our children.  Their education.”

“It just bothers me, that’s all,” Sophia continued as though Fern hadn’t spoken at all.  “These young women.  Single.  Flitting around going on dates and whatnot.  Ignoring their responsibilities…”

“She’s here now.  Isn’t that what counts?”  Fern insisted as she tried to jot down a note about the next school field trip.

“The first event she’s been to all year, if you don’t count the class outing to the farm last fall.  Which I don’t.”

Fern sighed.  Sophia knew what she would say.  It was time to let it go.  She couldn’t.  She had only trying to be friendly.  Hospitable, even.  She’d volunteered at the farm outing too.  She’d seen Amie passing out snacks to the kids, in her ridiculous boho-chic outfit, waist-length dreadlocks and a hoop stuck through the cartilage of her nose, and her heart had gone out to her.  She was clueless.  She’d offered to take her under her experienced wings, since she had two older children who’d already graduated from the same elementary school and gone on to middle.  She could help her get on the PTA, into the best playgroups so her daughter could improve her social skills and make friends with the right children.  Amie smiled politely and told her that her schedule was too full to make time for the PTA.  She was raising her daughter alone.  Sophia didn’t give up, insisted that she make time in her schedule, her daughter’s very future was at stake.  Amie smiled again and thanked her, but said she thought Simone would be fine making friends on her own.  On the bus ride home, she overheard Amie whisper to Laurie that all the “mommy politics” at the school were insane.   Then they’d giggled like schoolgirls.  Laughing at her.

Then, to add insult to injury, that little anti-social Simone had the audacity to be selected for the gifted group, over her little Imogene.   She’d done all the right things. The right playgroups and classes and nursery schools starting from when Imogene was three months old.  And that lazy, no-good Amie’s daughter ends up in gifted.  The injustice!

Fern’s attention was solely on the teacher now.  She was losing her.  Time to pull out the heavy artillery.

“And you know why most of these single mothers come to these school events, anyway?”  Sophia whispered, leaning closer to Fern.  “To flirt with our husbands.  This is their breeding ground.  They leave us and go on with them and have more children.  We’re just forgotten.”

Fern didn’t respond verbally, but her body stiffened.  Sophia had seen the text from Fern’s husband Kevin, though she’d tried to shield the screen.  He was running late again. He might not make Parent Night.  He’d been working late quite a bit lately.  She’d seen the profound glare of disappointment in Fern’s eyes as she put the phone back in her purse.

“Could you please be quiet, Sophia?!”  Laurie, who was seated in the row in front of them, scolded.

“I’m so sorry, Laurie,” Sophia said insincerely.  “I know you want to hear every single word.”  It was a jab.  A cruel one. Laurie’s son, Connor, was repeating the first grade.  He was struggling with his reading comprehension and attention span.  There were whispers of learning disabilities, ADHD.  All of the mothers were outwardly sympathetic as good manners dictated, but inwardly, they were all thinking, thank goodness it’s her and not me.  She and that Amie had made fast friends of course.

Laurie stood up from her seat abruptly, causing the rusty metal legs to scrape against the linoleum.  The teacher stumbled over her words as Laurie stomped out of the classroom, her eyes tight, drawn, and angry.

Fern

Does Sophia know?  Fern had told no one about Kevin’s affair.  If you could call it an affair.  It was a dalliance really.  Some woman in an airport bar when he was on a layover somewhere in the Midwest.  A layover.  She’d laughed hysterically at the absurdity of that term after Kevin had confessed his indiscretion.  Kevin had stared at her as though she were insane.  It was a year ago and they’d put it behind them, for their boys, Sam and Matt.  At least Fern had said she’d put it behind her.  But she wondered if there were others.  She wondered why he’d strayed.  Why she wasn’t enough?  Of course Kevin had given all of the right answers.  But she knew he was lying.  She knew it.  Too many late nights at work and extended business trips ever since the beginning of their marriage.  He was a liar.  Too smooth, too charming, too rebellious.  The kind of guy that was never interested in a woman like her, a lifelong good girl.  From the first day they’d met, she’d been hopelessly and pathetically addicted.

The teacher concluded her remarks and now the parents were invited to mingle and partake of the display of coffee and pastries on the front table.  Fern needed to speak to the teacher about her youngest son, Matt, but first, she needed some fresh air.  And to get away from Sophia.  Bitter, meddling, Sophia.

She leaned against a window in the front corridor, rapidly sending a text to Kevin.

Where r u?  We need to talk to the teacher about Matt.

She saw a flash of movement from the corner of her eye, and glanced out the window.  There was her husband on the front steps, talking to young, single, beautiful Amie.  And something inside her exploded.

Laurie

That Sophia!  Laurie cursed her name as she sobbed into her hands.  She was sitting in the driver’s seat of her tiny blue Toyota weeping for her son.  Her gorgeous boy, with his dark curls and huge brown eyes, so dark they were almost black.  He was struggling.  It broke her heart to see him work so hard, to try to make the words and letters on the paper make sense to no avail.  She’d taken him to so many specialists, with no luck.  But, she was hopeful. One day, someone would tell her how to help her son.

To add insult to injury, Connor was being bullied on the playground.  Stupid, idiot, retard.  The names he repeated to her through tears at the end of the schoolday.  She didn’t blame the children.  It was the parents.  The kids had heard their whispers about the boy who’d been held back.  According to Connor, Imogene, Sophia’s Imogene, was the ringleader.  The head bully. She would likely grow up to be a woman every bit as nasty and horrible as her mother.  Laurie was tired of cowering in the corner while the Sophias of the world ran everyone over.  How could she teach her son to fight back when she was in the car, crying like a little girl?

She turned the ignition and put the car in drive.  The tires squealed as she pulled out of her parking space, headed for the roundabout in front of the school.  She could see Sophia standing in front of the doors.  She was going to finally give her a piece of her mind.  She’d zip up to the curb, jump out of the car like a madwoman and stalk right up to Sophia, stand nose to nose with her and scream.

Amie

Amie had left the room discreetly after Laurie stormed out, in search of her friend.  But Laurie was too fast.  By the time she’d reached the front corridor, she’d vanished.  Amie had gone out the double doors, searching the front steps for Laurie, but instead, she’d laid eyes on the man she called The Elusive Stranger.  The handsome man she’d met at the bar days ago.  The one who’d kissed her breath away in the alley behind said bar.  It sounded seedy but in reality it had actually been quite sexy and romantic.  He’d handed her a business card with his work and mobile numbers quietly before telling her goodbye.

His name was Kevin, she saw it on his business card once she got in her car at the end of the night, her knees still trembling.  And now he was here, at Simone’s school.  It was incredibly surreal.

“What are you doing here?”

Kevin looked up, staring at her as though she were an alien beamed down from some foreign galaxy.

“Uhhh…my um…” he sputtered, not nearly as smooth as he was the night of their meeting.

“Do you have kids that go here?”

He nodded, his eyes nervously on the door.

“Wow, me too!  I have a daughter in first grade.  Small world!  How old are your kids?”

That’s when she heard it.  A scream.  Then the claws on the back of her neck. She was shoved.  She lost her balance and stumbled to the ground, her chin hitting the cement sidewalk.

“Why are you talking to my husband?!!!”

Amie stood, dusting herself off, looking into the eyes of Fern, that withdrawn, mousy woman who always went around with Sophia.

“Husband?”  Amie turned to Kevin incredulously.  “You’re married!”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t know you little slut!”  Fern shouted.  “And you!”  Fern turned her attention to Kevin.  “You’re a liar!  You do this here!  Where our children go to school?!  You disgust me!”  She leaped at him, clawing at his eyeballs.  Kevin cried out in pain.  Amie, who couldn’t abide the sight of any kind of violence, tried to pull Fern off him, which only infuriated Fern further.  She shrugged Amie off, sending her into the bushes next to the front steps.  The sharp motion caused Fern to lose her balance, sending her toppling into the street, just as Laurie zoomed into the roundabout at full speed, well over the 5 mph speed limit for the school parking lot.  The sound of the impact was sickening.  Bones cracking, Fern’s screaming, the crunch of her skull as it hit the pavement.  Laurie leaped out of the car and fell to her knees next to Fern’s crumpled form, screaming noiselessly as Kevin and Amie watched, frozen in silence.

Sophia

She’d been standing in the doorway.  She followed Fern.  She was going to try and get her to come back.  But then she’d seen it.  Fern enraged.  Leaping at Amie, then at Kevin.  Teeth bared, claws out, like an animal.  She’d seen it.  She stood in the shadows and watched, recording every moment.  She could repeat it to everyone who asked her to re-tell it.  Which they would, many times, for years and years to come.

She stayed there as people rushed past her after hearing the commotion.  As they stood in the roundabout over poor Fern’s lifeless body, cell phones out, screaming at the 911 operator to hurry.  She didn’t come out until the police cars and ambulances roared into the parking lot.  She walked down the front steps slowly, carefully, then approached a self-important-looking detective.  He must be the one in charge.

“Officer,” she said, trying to suppress her smile of satisfaction, the warm churning of pleasure in her middle.  “I saw it all.  I’ll tell you everything.”

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Harm

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A girl had fallen in the snow.  Sara ran down the road, breathless, wanting to help.  There was no one else around.  People were locked up inside their homes, waiting out the storm.  When the girl looked up with a grimace, Sara gasped. It was Taylor Stokes.  Taylor was the reason why she’d had to change schools. The reason why she’d cried herself to sleep every night her freshman year. The reason for the jagged scars on the inside of her arm.

They limped slowly down the street to Sara’s warm house.  When they came through the door, Sara’s mother, Faye, was waiting.  She hadn’t seen Taylor since that awful day in the principal’s office.  The morning after she’d caught Sara with the nail scissors.  They’d moved to a new school district to keep the two girls apart.  And now here she was, in their home, needing help.

Faye iced Taylor’s ankle and elevated it, then called her mother, who said she would be there shortly.

“What were you doing out there in the storm?”  Faye asked.  Taylor looked sheepish.  They realized suddenly, she was there to do something nasty.  There had been little pranks, every once and a while, since Sara had moved.  A rude name spray-painted on the garage door or the driveway, an egg splattered on the car.  Faye said nothing.  Taylor’s mom arrived shortly after, full of humility and gratitude, and then they were gone.

“Why did you help her?”  Sara asked Faye later.

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

That night, Sara reached for the secret pair of scissors she kept under her mattress and threw them away.

For Sunday Photo Fiction

 

 

No Filter

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“Amy, you look tired.”

“I’m not tired.  I’m just not wearing makeup.”

“Amy, are you sick?”

“No, just not wearing makeup.”

“You’re so short!  Did you shrink?”

“No, just opted for flats tonight.”

“No makeup?  You know you can wear natural makeup.  No one can tell you’re wearing any and you won’t look so…exhausted…”

“I’m sick of spending an hour getting ready to go out while the guys are on the couch scratching themselves.”

“Flats?  Seriously?”

“Why would I torture myself voluntarily?”

“Ick!  What happened to you?”

Amy got tired of answering versions of the same question over and over and escaped to the bathroom.  She pulled the forgotten makeup bag from the bottom of her purse and stared at her reflection.  As she raised the sponge to her cheek, something inside her caught fire.  She dumped the cosmetics bag in the trash in its entirety and left the bathroom, then ducked out of a side door.  Standing on the street, feeling the cool night wind on her bare face, she raised her arm to hail a cab.

 

 

Friend

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I think it’s really over this time, Mom.   He dumped me.  He’s engaged.” Susan sobbed.

“I think it’s really over, Mom.  He’s moving out,” Casey sobbed.

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry,” said Susan’s mom.

“That lowlife scum!” Casey’s mom shouted.

“Can I come over?”  Susan and Casey asked their mothers in unison, in separate conversations in opposite parts of town.

“Of course,” their mothers responded.

An hour later, two grown women, who were really just little girls on the inside, were tucked in by their mothers in the sweet-smelling bedrooms of their childhoods.  They both drifted off to sleep secure in the knowledge that there was one woman in the world with whom they could be honest.

BFFs

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“I saw you in the city the other day,” Casey said nonchalantly, bobbing her head to the music.

“Really?”  Susan took a long sip of her cocktail.

“You were with Tom.”

Susan didn’t answer, just turned to the wall, facing the line of speakers along the wall that vibrated to the music.  She thought about escaping to the dance floor, pretending she hadn’t heard, but she’d waited too long.

“Oh, I just bumped into him.  I was saying hello.  We chatted a bit.” Susan was lying.  She’d told her friends she stopped seeing Tom months ago, but they were still very much an item.  She didn’t feel like listening to Casey judging her for her “poor choices” for the hundredth time.  After all, it was her life.  She didn’t need Miss High and Mighty’s approval. “Anyway, how’s newlywed life?”

Casey smiled.  “It’s blissful,” she fibbed.  She and Mark fought nonstop on their honeymoon.  For the last two days of their trip, she’d even requested a separate room at the hotel.  On the flight over, she’d found the pictures in his phone from his bachelor party.  He’d told her it was just a tame night out at a bar with friends.  Needless to say, he was a liar.  She was considering having the whole thing annulled for fraud.  But the wedding had been so beautiful.

Susan touched Casey’s arm.  “I’m so happy for you, Case.”

“Thanks, girl.  And I’m glad you got rid of that loser Tom.”

“Me too.  Good riddance.”

Both women laughed, before taking long sips of their cocktails.

For Sunday Photo Fiction 

 

 

Survivor

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It’s just dinner party conversation.  That’ll be your defense when you come out to see what’s wrong.  You won’t know why I’m really upset.  And I won’t tell you.  I’ve never told anyone.

“How can they arrest a 70-something year old man for something that happened a million years ago,” your husband roared.

“Most of these women barely remembered what happened,” you agreed, sipping the wine while your husband passed me the mashed potatoes, not noticing my trembling hands.  “There’s no evidence.”

“They were drugged before he raped them, of course they don’t remember,” someone else interjects, and I calm a bit, taking a hug gulp of pinot.

“Come on now, most of these women are liars, using his good name to get a piece of fame.  Trying to take a good man down.”

That’s when I felt ill.  I needed a bit of fresh air, so I excused myself to the foyer and leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths, trying not to remember.  Me at 14, his hands on my throat, his rough breath in my ear.

Soon, you’ll come out, tell me I’m being silly, convince me to come back to the table.  But for now, I am going to stand here, staring out the window, trying to forget.

68% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.  Visit Rainn.org to learn more.

Reunion

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“This water tastes disgusting.”

“Sorry, honey, it’s from the tap, didn’t make it inside the store today.”

“You didn’t make it inside?”

Sasha shook her head.  “I made it to the parking lot.  Then I started thinking about how everyday for the past I don’t know how many days has been exactly the same.  I’m sick of it.”

“Okay, so what did you do instead?”

“Mandy, Paula, Jane and I drove up to the water tower with some beer like we used to do in college.  It was a blast.”

“Four grown women getting drunk on the side of the road?”

“When you say it like that you make it sound trashy!  Anyway, it was so hot we ended up climbing the water tower, going for a quick dip…”

“You contaminated the town’s water supply?”

“It was a prank we pulled back in high school.  No one died then.  I’m sure it’s fine.”

Rob dumped his glass of water down the drain and grabbed his car keys.  “I’m going to the store.”

For Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

Make Me Over

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“You look great, Syd, just beautiful,” Jane gushed.

“Thanks.” Syd ducked her head shyly, tucking a strand of hair, freshly dyed and straightened, behind her ear.

“I knew a makeover would be perfect…it would get you out of this…this…funk you’ve been in for, like, ever!”

“Anyway, thanks again.”  Syd grabbed the bulging shopping bags from the backseat of Jane’s car, told her friend goodbye, and climbed the three stories to her cramped apartment.  It was dark and quiet as she entered.   The air was stale and putrid.  Something was rotting in the fridge. Her couches were covered with laundry, some dirty, some clean.  Styrofoam containers and empty pizza boxes, dotted with crumbs and spots of grease overflowed from the trash can.  She didn’t remember the last time she’d taken the trash out.  Maybe Monday?

She stepped over another pile of (clean?) laundry blocking the doorway of the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror.  Her hair was cut in a wavy long bob, like Taylor Swift’s, and dyed jet black, a makeup artist had spent an hour on her face, contouring and lining and highlighting and doing other things she’d never understand or be able to replicate.  She looked pretty.  She’d always known she was pretty.  But she’d never be able to explain that to Jane.  Sweet, clueless Jane, who thought a haircut and a couple of new dresses would solve all of her problems.

She turned on the shower, stripped off her new clothes and sat in the bathtub, naked, letting it all wash away.

Not So Chance Encounter

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I am in bed on a gorgeous Sunday.   It’s noon.  My stomach rumbles.   I need sustenance and caffeine.  An omelette with spinach and mushrooms sounds divine.  And a coffee as tall as me.

I peek out my window at the sidewalk cafe beneath my building.  The coast is clear. I dress in a hurry and race downstairs.  Thankfully, there’s no line.  I give a rushed order to the owner and wait, tapping my foot.

“Amanda!”  A voice screeches behind me.  My stomach drops.  I force my eyes not to roll as I spin around.  “Faith.”  I respond.

“Imagine running into you here!”

“It is my favorite place for brunch.  Has been for years.”

“Join us?”

I sigh.  “Faith, your son and I aren’t together any longer.  I don’t see a need for us to socialize.  I just want to get some take-out in peace.”

“Of course.  Enjoy your Sunday.”   Her shoulders deflate as she turns away.

“Faith!”  She faces me  “Of all my almost mothers-in-law, you are my favorite.”

She laughs and waves goodbye.

For Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers

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Toxic

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PHOTO PROMPT © C.E. Ayr

“What a hideous shoe.  Actually it looks kind of like the ones you’re wearing,” Elle remarked.  “When are you going to let me give you a makeover?  I mean, you know I love you, but you’re kind of clueless about this kind of thing.”

“These shoes were a gift from my mom,” Denise answered.  “She took me shopping yesterday.”

“Oh,” Elle said instead of apologizing.  She would have looked embarrassed, if she were the kind of person that got embarrassed.  “So, where do you want to go to lunch?”

“I think I’ll walk to the bistro across the street.  Alone.”

For Friday Fictioneers!