Window

window-691542_960_720

Mother loved Louisa best.  Once again, Louisa had successfully convinced Mother to blame Gemma for one of her own infractions, sending Gemma to her room without dinner.  “I don’t want to see you again until morning,” Mother had said, clutching Louisa, who’d stopped fake-sobbing long enough to stick her tongue out.

Gemma opened her bedroom window and let in the sweet summer air.  She listened to the sound of her friends playing, families laughing, food sizzling on backyard grills.  She grabbed her sketchbook and pencils, gifts from Dad, and let her mind run free.

 

The Moral Mondays prompt this week is FREEDOM IS A STATE OF MIND.

Bourbon

covered-bridge

It was too hot to sleep. The air was so still in the bedroom that sisters Cora and Emily had shared growing up that they decided to move to the screened in back porch, praying for the slightest breeze. They hadn’t spoken in months. Their father’s funeral had drawn them both home, but only for a night. In the morning, they’d leave, continuing on  opposite paths.

Hours later, they were still awake, and restless, when Cora began to recall a memory. Their father, tiptoeing out of the back door in the middle of the night, venturing to the covered bridge that bordered their property. He would emerge an hour or so later, wearing a mysterious smile.

Barefoot, the women tiptoed through the dewy grass in their nightgowns, giggling, their arms around each other.  It was really dark those nights, but I’m pretty sure this is the place,” Emily said as they looked around for their father’s secret treasure. They easily found the shallow hole he’d dug. Inside – a half-empty bottle of his favorite bourbon.  Emily dusted it off and took a long swig as she sat in the dirt, passing it to her sister who followed suit.

They leaned against the dirty wall in silence, as a cool breeze began to encircle them.

For Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner

Glass

broken-glass-1569217

“You were supposed to be here an hour ago!”

Kacey put the phone on speaker so her sister, Kenna, could hear.”We’re almost there, Mom!” Kacey zipped around the corner in the luxury car her parents had just given her.

“Go have a Xanax,” Kenna added.

“Byeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” Kacey yelled as she ended the call, tossing the phone in her Gucci handbag.

“The same crap every Sunday.  I’d rather eat glass.”

They rushed inside as their mother emerged from the kitchen carrying two plates, each covered with tiny, broken shards.

“Your purse called me back,” Mom said with a tiny smile.

 

For Moral Mondays – The prompt this week is Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child.

Dimensions

plane
Source

I have waited years for this day.   My sister Val turns to me and grins.  She is the sun – bronze-brown skin glowing, a bright smile spread across her gorgeous face.  She indirectly got us the gig since she knows the guy that ran the annual air show that was held in our small city every spring.  We are going to get to perform five of our new songs near the entrance as people are milling about, waiting for the show to begin.

“Hi guys!” Val’s friend, Adam, approaches the stage as we’re setting up.  Val hugs him and thanks him for giving us a chance.

“Wait – what’s with all the equipment?” Adam asks.  “I thought you guys were like, you know, that old singing group Beyonce used to be in.  A bunch of singing and sexy dance moves.”

I look down at my flannel shirt, tank top and battered jeans.  Not very conducive to sexy dance moves.

“Val didn’t tell you?” I ask as I strap my guitar across my chest and shake my long braids out of my eyes.  “We’re rockers.”

I start warming up, breaking into my favorite guitar solo, as the entire park seems to pause for a moment and stare.

For Flash Fiction for the Purposeful Practitioner

Inspired by this news item.  While I agree that Prince was one-of-a-kind and there will never be another like him, I think there are many innovative, talented people from all walks of life who are waiting to shine, if we only give them a chance to be themselves.

 

Sight

squint

“Where were you today?”

“Yeah, everyone was asking for you.”

It was the beginning of an interrogation. Kendall’s shoulders slumped.  She took a long sip of her wine, immediately feeling its effects.  Her antidepressants already made her sleepy.

“I didn’t feel well,” she slurred.

Mara, the oldest sister, groaned loudly as Kendall’s eyes lowered.  “Really, Kendall?”

“We ALL have bad days,” Lane, the middle sister, added, her tone dripping with fake compassion.  “I wasn’t feeling all that great either, but I pushed past it and got through.”

“We’re getting tired of having to cover for you all time.  People ask for you and we don’t know what to say.”

“Why do you care so much if I’m there or not?  What does it matter?”  Kendall asks, her hand shaking as she lifted the glass once again to her lips, droplets of wine falling onto the table.

“It’s about how it looks, Kendall.  We’re sisters.  Why won’t you let us in?”  Lane asked.

Kendall dabbed at the spilled wine with her napkin, not looking her sister in the eye.  “Because you don’t see me.”

“What does that even mean?!”  Mara yelled in frustration.

Kendall dropped the napkin to the floor and rose from the table without a word.

“And now she’s leaving,” Lane commented as Kendall walked past, throwing her arms in the air.

I’m already gone, Kendall thought.

*

Kendall opened her eyes.  She was in a strange room filled with light, surrounded by beeping machines, her nostrils filled with the smell of antiseptic.  She wasn’t sure how much time had passed.  An initial wave of despair and disappointment washed over her as she realized she’d failed.  I can’t even do this right.

A nurse leaned over her bed.  “You’re awake!  I’ll let your sisters know.  They’ve been waiting for…”

“I don’t want to see them.”

“Are you sure?  They…”

“I’m sure.”  She gave the nurse a tight smile.  As she left the room, Kendall laid against the pillows and closed her eyes.  In her dreams, she saw a woman, standing outside in a sun shining so brightly she had to squint her eyes, alone but happy.  She had a second chance and she wasn’t going to waste it.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/drop/

Get Happy – Conclusion

Today I get to combine two assignments in one.  First I revamped my blog based on tips from Blogging 101 – Day 2.

Next – Open  University Assignment: Start Writing Fiction 1.4 Portraying a character

Now present your new character in the four different ways outlined in Activity 7. Here they are again:

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show him or her through appearance.
  • Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.

*

swiss alps

There was a knock at the front door.  Sara had just stepped out of her dress and was about to pull on a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, preparing to meet up with some friends a few blocks away for a drink.  She wanted to spill all of the details of her date that never was.  Her eyebrows raised, she slowly approached the door as though there were some sort of deviant on the other side.  She never got unannounced visitors, especially this late at night.  Had the elusive Chet tracked her down and decided to apologize in person?

She padded across the dusty hardwood floor in bare feet and peeked through the peephole.  It was Amy.  Sara stepped back from the door and sighed.  Her sister was ready for round two she guessed.  Well, she was too.  She quickly whipped the door open and could tell she’d startled her, which pleased Sara the tiniest bit.  Sara just stared back at her, eyebrows still raised, as if to say, ‘Can I help you?’

Thirty miles away, in a sad little suburb in a sagging house on a toy-littered cul-de-sac, Amy and Sara’s mother, Helen, poured herself her fifth glass of wine of the night.  Her husband was settled in in his usual spot in front of the television in his armchair, laughing at some dumb, subtly sexist sitcom.  One of those where the wife is impossibly gorgeous and the husband is bumbling and overweight and goofy, but the disparity in their union is never mentioned.  Helen often wondered why the reverse was never portrayed.  A gorgeous guy dating an average-looking woman?  Perish the thought.

Helen stumbled upstairs to her bedroom, settled into her usual spot on her king sized bed that she usually slept in alone while her husband snored away downstairs in his easy chair, and opened her laptop.   She had a new email.  Unusual for that time of night.  She assumed her friends were already asleep.  At some point, after her girls had grown up and moved away, most of her social life had disappeared as well.  She hadn’t realized that most of her friends were ones of convenience, ladies she could talk to at school events and play dates as the kids ran around.  Much of being a parent was just sitting around with other parents, sipping bad wine and complaining about your husband.  None of the parenting books told you that, but it was true.

Now she was down to two friends she was in regular contact with.  An old college friend with whom she’d maintained her friendship throughout her marriage and the raising of her children, though it hadn’t been easy.  Marjorie was single and had never desired a husband or children.  It made things awkward when the girls were young, but now it was almost like things were back to normal.  They were both unencumbered, not that that meant her life was much more exciting.  She and Marjorie did little more than have lunches and talk about books they’d read.  They played around with the idea of taking a long trip together, just to the two of them, similar to an epic road trip they’d taken when they were 19, driving from their college in Georgia all the way to New York City on a whim to see some band perform.  But now, neither of them seemed to be able to make firm plans.  Maybe they both knew those days were behind them.

Her other friend was Nancy, a woman who was the mother of Amy’s long-time best friend, Amber.  They ran into each other all of the time, especially at all of Amy’s pre-wedding festivities.  Amy seemed to still be under the impression that Helen and Nancy were close, and always included Nancy and her husband whenever she planned family get-togethers.  The truth was, Nancy was a friend of circumstance.  She didn’t dislike her necessarily, they just had nothing in common beside their girls.  Whenever they were left alone they found that they had little to discuss with each other besides mundane things like the weather and fashion.  But sometimes they exchanged funny emails, usually stories about something Amy or Amber had done that confounded them or made them laugh.

Before opening her email, she checked Facebook and held her breath, hoping the first image that assaulted her eyes wouldn’t be that of her youngest, Sara, downing a shot of something dark and suspicious looking, which was usually the case.  But no, there was a picture of Sara in Amy’s living room, all made up, clearly Amy had done her makeup with a heavy hand, in a lovely dress that made her look like a cinema star from the 1940’s.   She looked like Helen 30 years ago.  The same chocolate brown hair; Helen’s mane was still lustrous and shiny but now tinged with gray, but she still had the long, lithe body from the Pilates DVDs she used religiously six days a week, and the wide green eyes that she’d bequeathed to both her daughters.

She stared back at her Facebook timeline.  Amy must have taken the picture of Sara.  Her mouth smiled, but her eyes told a different story.   “Off to a double date!”  Amy had written in the photo caption, followed by a million little smiley faces and other indecipherable emojis.  Sara looked beautiful, of course, both of her daughters were beautiful, but not quite like herself.  Poor Sara.  Helen knew this whole date thing couldn’t have been Sara’s idea.  Her lovely, free-spirited daughter.  She envied her a bit.  All that freshness and spontaneity and youth.  She did what she wanted and didn’t care what anyone thought.  Unless Amy was involved.   She had a vision, many years ago, of sitting in Chastain Park chatting with Nancy and hearing terrified screams coming from the sliding board where Amy, Amber, and little Sara, only two at the time, had been playing.   The slide was for the bigger kids, too much for her baby Sara, but Amy had pushed her, only figuratively she hoped, until Sara had gone down all by herself, screaming and crying all the way.  She ran to Sara, where she’d fallen face down in the dirt  after the slide had propelled her little body downward at warp speed, wiped the dirt from her face, kissed her still chubby baby cheek and dried her tears.  Sara buried her head in her shoulder as she carried her back to the bench.  “What a baby,”  Helen had heard five-year-old Amy whisper to Amber as they’d both snickered.  Sara had quietly sniffled in her lap the rest of the afternoon.  Helen had wished since that day that Sara would stand up for herself more when it came to Amy; clearly she’d been bullied into this blind date business, but she tried to stay out of her daughters’ squabbles.

She went back to her email and saw the new message had been sent an hour ago from Amy.  It was link to a hotel confirmation for a resort in the Swiss Alps booked in Helen’s name, a package that included multiple guided hikes through the mountains, and a link to an airline gift card that would more than cover first class airfare for two.  She clasped her chest and sucked in a deep breath.  Amy.  She’d remembered her whispers.  Helen could still feel the weight of her smaller head against hers, years ago on this very bed.  She’d felt so lost, disillusioned with life and marriage and motherhood.  She’d had no one to confide in.  All of her mom friends seemed so happy and content.  Marjorie would have just said, ‘I told you so.’  She had been convinced since college that marriage was just a sham perpetuated by a patriarchal society set on keeping women from realizing their true potential.  Therapy was out of the question.  Sara was so young and running wild, never noticing her mother’s unhappiness.  But it was Amy who would crawl into bed with her and ask, “Mommy, what is it?  What’s wrong?”  And she’d told her.   Her 10-year-old daughter had been the only person with whom she could be honest.  Horrible parenting, she knew, but she also knew those clandestine talks had saved her life.

Helen forwarded the email to Marjorie and said, “I’m in.  Are you?”  She only had to wait five seconds before she got her response, an enthusiastic, “YES!!!”

Helen closed the computer, steadying herself, then stood  and made her way back downstairs.  Walter was nodding off in his chair, the television and the dumb sitcom still droning on.

“Walter!”  She shook the chair to rouse him.  Her husband stirred and slowly opened his eyes with surprise.

“I’m going on a trip with Marjorie.  To Switzerland.  We leave next week.”

“Errr…okay….” he mumbled groggily.

“And when I get back.  I think we should see someone.  A therapist or counselor or something.   Our insurance should cover it.  Maybe not a top-notch one, but someone.  I’m unhappy, Walter.  I’ve been unhappy for a long, long time.”

Walter looked confused.  He was a simple kind of guy.  As long as he had his family, his TV remote, cold beer in the fridge and money in the bank, he was a-okay.  It was one of the reasons she’d married him.   She knew he would be loyal and sweet, only needing her and their little family, nothing more.  Unlike her own philandering father.  But she wouldn’t think about that now.  That would be a story for the therapist.  The only thing she had to do now was pack.  She hurried upstairs, without stumbling, seeming to have sobered up completely, leaving Walter’s perplexed face behind her.

Back at Sara’s doorstep, Amy was still standing in the hallway, waiting to be let in.  Sara saw something that slightly resembled regret in her eyes, and reluctantly stepped aside so Amy could get past her.  She’d changed too.  She wore her gym gear, a light blue jacket, yoga pants and two layered multi-colored tank tops, her face scrubbed and her hair pulled back.  She was such a beauty, so ethereal-looking, with her naturally clear translucent skin, auburn hair warming her face, her cheeks red from the cold.

Amy stepped inside and started to look around.  Here we go, Sara thought.  She knew Amy would comment on the hastily discarded dress on the floor, the books scattered all over the couch and her bed, since her apartment was so small she could see through the open door of her bedroom from the foyer.  There were dishes in the sink waiting to be washed and dried, a basket full of clean laundry waiting for Sara to pick through and find a clean top to wear out.   But when she really looked at Amy she seemed to be seeing her humble little apartment for the first time.

And she was.  Amy was seeing the wall of bookshelves their father had put up for her, remembering Sara always said she wanted a wall of books in her house when she was all grown up.  A declaration she made after she saw the epic castle library in their favorite movie as kids, Beauty and the Beast.  She saw all of the keepsakes for her travels around the world, a framed photo of her and a friend in the Andes Mountains, stunning pink and aqua blue coiled sea shells, unusual-looking red and brown rocks saved from various hiking trips, white sand collected from a Thai beach in a bottle, the words Samui Beach scribbled on the glass.

She saw another shelf lined with a collection of used vinyl containing some of her favorite bands and an old-fashioned record player. A well-worn guitar leaned against it, which Sara had spent many hours learning to play as a teen, despite Amy’s telling her it was a waste of time. The living room had a wide open space of empty flooring, the only furniture was a small, dark red love seat with bright throw pillows and a side table.  Stepping closer, Amy saw the framed photo that sat atop it.  It was her and her sister, arms around each other, the ocean behind them, the wind whipping their hair around their faces.  It was during their last sister trip.  Two weeks before she married Steve.  Of course Amber had thrown her a huge bachelorette bash a month prior, but this had been a special trip just for them.  They’d gone to Miami and had the time of their lives.  They’d sunbathed every morning, gone running on the beach every afternoon, eaten and drank whatever they wanted, and at night, they’d danced to exhaustion.

She realized her sister was different and free and mysterious, all the things she wasn’t, but that was okay.

“What is it, Amy?” Sara asked, arm crossed, but her face softened a bit.

Amy put her bag down on Sara’s loveseat and pulled out a bottle of red wine.  “I’m here to drink wine and dance with my sister.”

A slow smile spread across Sara’s face.  “What??”

“Put on Nevermind.”  She was still giving her sister orders, but this one Sara didn’t seem to mind.  She went to dig through the album collection as Amy braved the messy kitchen to find two clean glasses and a corkscrew, not an easy task, but as she returned to the living room she heard the beginning strains of Lithium.  She handed a glass to Sara and started to play air guitar.  Sara shook her head and laughed at her dorky sister.  When the chorus hit, they both began to sing at the top of their lungs and sort of jump dance around the room.  As Amy danced she looked at her sister’s flailing body, her hair whipping all over her face as she sang, then pictured her mother on a mountaintop, her closest friend at her side, breathing in the crisp, cold air and sighing deeply, an expression of profound contentment on her face.  Amy said to herself silently, ‘So this is what it feels like.’

Get Happy – pt. 2

Assignment for Open University

  • Make a summary of what the character is like.
  • Show him or her through appearance.
  • Show him or her through a habitual or repeated action.
  • Finally, show him or her through a speech in a scene.

pitch-black-skies

Yesterday’s story from the other sister’s perspective. Amy’s feet were throbbing, but her shoes were killer.  She felt faint from the constricting bright blue bandage dress that seemed to be cutting off her source of oxygen.  Her hair fell in loose, auburn waves over her bare shoulders.  She was hyper aware of the men walking by, taking in the hard-earned, pert curves of her body as she perched on the bar stool.

Beauty was pain, and work.  Everything was work.  Nothing was fun and easy and natural.  There was no such thing as a natural beauty.  There was no such thing as love at first sight, or a perfect marriage.  In any so-called happy marriage, there was a woman who spent two hours in the gym six days a week, routinely skipped meals, spent an hour a day on hair and make up and had a dresser dedicated to nothing but lingerie.  Their husbands bragged on them to their friends; their friends envied them.  The ones with the wives who’d let themselves go after the babies and mortgages and 401Ks.

“Amy’s holding up,” she’d heard one of Steve’s friends whisper to him as she’d slowly walked up the stairs from the basement on Steve’s poker night.   She’d smiled secretly to herself. That’s why she spent an hour making her sister beautiful that afternoon.  If she’d left it up to her she’d have shown up in a pair of ripped jeans and a Nirvana tour t-shirt from 1993.  She made no effort and it was embarrassing.  Happiness was work too.  Just like beauty.  She’d found the man who would make her happy and she made him love her. Made him her husband.  It hadn’t been easy.

Steve was clearly out of her league from the beginning, she’d known that.  She was a lower middle-class townie with a state college degree, he was an Ivy League investment banker that just happened to be a friend of a friend of a friend that she’d met at a group hang out thing one of her friends had arranged.  But being married to Steve meant happiness.  So she reinvented herself into a woman he would marry.  And it’d worked, in six months flat.  Much quicker than any of her girlfriends would have guessed.

Her mother had never been happy.  She was too afraid.  Never asked for what she really wanted.   She’d settled for a man who adored her, but was beneath her.  Weak.  Unambitious.  They still lived in the same shabby starter house they’d bought right after Amy was born, the only empty-nesters in the neighborhood surrounded by singles and newlyweds with fat, cooing babies.  Her mom had told her what she really wanted when she was a kid.  Secret whispers laying side by side on her parents’ bed while her father was downstairs, watching some sporting event or game show, cheers erupting from far away.  She’d wanted a house on the lake with windows that faced east.  She would sit on the porch next to her husband with a cup of tea and watch the sun rise.  She wanted to write novels, she wanted to have more children, she wanted to go hiking in Europe, she wanted, she wanted, she wanted.  But they were just whispers.

She couldn’t stand to think of her mother in that sad house, watching the reflecting lights of the television in her husband’s blank face, a husband that she desperately wanted to love, thinking of trips untaken and the one page of the book saved on the computer upstairs that she knew she would never finish.  She loved her mother dearly, but she was lazy.  She wasn’t depressed, or defeated, she was just lazy.  She could finish her book, she was in good health, she could go hiking anywhere, her father would follow her wherever. It was easier to complain about the things she would never do than try.  That would never be Amy’s life.  And she was going to make sure that it didn’t happen to Sara either.

Amy wound a fat strand of hair and smiled as Sara approached.  She was stunning.  Much prettier than Amy when she was all dressed up, Amy was confident enough to admit.  It was such a rare treat to see her that way, a bubble of pride expanded in her chest.  Chet was a lucky guy.  And he was smart and ambitious and handsome, a great father to his son with his ex-wife.  Amy had always thought guys who’d been married before made the best husbands, contrary to popular belief.  They’d gotten that first disastrous marriage out of the way and were ready for the real thing.  But Amy was shocked that he was going to be so late for the date; it was the height of rudeness.   She wouldn’t let on to Sara.  Sara was too much like their mother.  Aimless, no plan, bouncing around wherever the wind blew her.  If she didn’t nudge her in the right direction every once and a while, she stood still. Sara greeted her and Steve with a hello that was a bit too chipper, refusing to remove her coat.  Maybe she was waiting for Chet to arrive before making the big reveal.  She knew the dress she was wearing underneath was stunning, but she was hiding, just like their mother.

When Sara found out Chet was running an hour late because he was at spin class, she laughed like it was the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard (and it sort of was) deposited Amy’s $500 shoes on top of the bar and practically ran out the door, five inches shorter.  It was as though she’d been freed from some sort of oppression. Spending the evening with her sister and her brother-in-law was oppressive to her.  And that’s when Amy started to get angry.

She downed the rest of her wine, and without a word to Steve, she stormed out of the restaurant into the cold night after her, catching up with her on the corner.  She was so angry she didn’t register the cold or the fact that she’d left her coat inside until she was standing face to face with her sister, who was standing under a street lamp, waiting for the traffic light to change.  She’d already wiped off most of her makeup with a towelette, back to regular Sara.  Under the lights, she looked so young.  Her baby sister.  Despite her anger, she felt a wave of affection. Sara stared back at her, unintimidated, with a tiny spot of red still left on her otherwise bare lips.

“What do you want?” Sara demanded.  “Did you really want me to sit and wait an hour for that douche-bag?  Do you really think I’m that desperate?”

Amy shook her head, crossing her arms against the cold.  “I just wanted you to meet someone new…I mean….when have you even been in a relationship..?

Sara threw her arms in the air in frustration.  The light changed and the other pedestrians pushed against them as they made their way to the crosswalk. “You know nothing about my life.  You’re too busy trying to get me to become you.”

Amy tugged at her hair and flipped it behind her shoulders. “And what’s so wrong with that.  Having a happy marriage…starting a family?”

“Nothing, if you’re really happy.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Sara sighed. “Come on, Amy.  You and Steve and your whole fake Stepford Wife thing you have going on…that’s happiness?  Wearing designer shoes and going to dumb pretentious restaurants and talking about….investment portfolios and overpriced preschools or whatever with your ridiculous friends?  That’s what you call a life?”

Amy stumbled back, as though Sara had punched her. “It’s better than sitting in some crappy apartment with boxes and clothes and trash everywhere cause you’re too lazy to clean.  You’re 30 years old, Sara.  Grow up already.”  She maintained her angry stance, but she was losing steam.

Sara stepped closer to her, smiling, looking more at peace than she’d ever seen her.  “I love my life, Amy.  As hard as that may be for you to believe.  I don’t need your pity, or your set ups, or some pretend version of your life.  I’m actually happy.  I’m not pretending. And I think that makes you a little crazy.” The light changed again and Sara darted across the street, blending into the crowd of other pedestrians. Amy stayed on the street corner and watched her sister start to skip down the street away from her in her ballet flats like a little girl, until she couldn’t see her any longer.  Her heart began to slowly crack, and she wondered if she’d ever known anything at all.