With brutal honesty, these have taken a complete back burner so I can focus on my rewrite, but hope to return in the future.
March 7, 2018: Albertine and Josephine
I placed twenty-dollar bills into his hand, making sure he saw each one. BB looked at me, showing a little bit of sorrow on his face. He knew who they truly belonged to. He also missed her as much as I did. I should’ve invited him to the river when I sprinkled the last of Josephine’s ashes. We frequented this area since we were in grade school. We shared our deepest secrets underneath the trees. It seemed not long ago we were ten years old.
I was asking Josephine to braid her hair. She didn’t like others messing with her auburn locks, and would tell me no. She’d leap up and run off. Her legs were faster than mine. I would still chase her until we found ourselves bumping into each other and laughing as we fell onto the grass.
It was incredibly hard to watch my best friend submerge into the water, be carried away, and all the while I heard our last conversation.
“Albertine, how much I will miss you. Saying your name. Hearing you say mine. You know how much I love my hair, but giving you a lock of it might be a good thing.”
I had been waiting for her to say that since the beginning of our friendship. I had decided if she wasn’t willing to give me a piece of her hair, I was going to take some of it after she died. Thankfully, it never came to that, but I was always ready. I pulled out a scissors from my coat pocket.
“Here, let me do it,” I said. “I’ll be sure to only take a little bit.”
“Take it near my face, but not too close. I don’t want you to accidentally nick me. And I want to see it.”
After I had separated the strands I was taking, I further separated it with string.
“Hold still now,” I said.
She gasped a little bit when she heard the scissors close shut. For the first time in her life, Josephine was asymmetrical when it came to her hair. I held it out in front of her face, but not before tugging on the tiny knot.
“Not even enough to miss.”
She nodded slightly, picked up the mirror beside her, and inspected the area where I clipped her hair.
“I could always count on you to do things right,” said Josephine. “I hope you know that.”
“I do.” I said with some sass. “Isn’t that why you kept me around all these years?”
“Stop it.” She wiped her misty eyes. “I’m going to miss you so much. Your words. Your face. You know I love you like a sister.”
These words lingered in my memory as she took her last breaths. She was unable to speak during her last days. It was excruciating for me. I had difficulty concentrating. All I could do was hold her hand during this time. Of course, I loved her in return, and told her this every morning and night. We had been best friends for most of our lives. I placed her hands on her chest when she was gone. I kissed her forehead and recited her favorite prayer. She had already closed her eyes for me.
There were a handful still alive from our high school class. We used to wonder who would die first between us. I now knew the answer.
Josephine did have some surprises even as she reached her golden years. The night she invited me for a nice car ride comes to mind. She had recently turned seventy. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going when I asked her. I followed her into a building, and found myself standing behind her in a semi-lit room. It was spacious enough to put your arms out, but as the night progressed, it became crowded.
This was my introduction to the secret world of gambling of a different kind. I watched her give money to a stranger. I later learned his name was Bruce Bowman. My friend had gone from the innocent girl of a farmer father and stay at home mother to taking part in shady activity. She blamed it on her second cousin, half-joking.
“That’s not fair to Harold.” I said, half-joking too.
Harold had gotten into trouble with the local authorities for letting nearby farm livestock run wild. He said cows should run free once in a while, but he really only wanted to laugh at their confusion once the gate was open and after he took a swipe at their backside. He was known around town as a troublemaker. While he never did anything serious, it was enough for people to never give him a chance. He worked on her father’s farm, and even survived an accident that took his left leg from the knee down.
It was no surprise that she gave him a sizable chunk to him when she sold her father’s farm and surrounding land. He gave her a handmade card. It never said thanks, but told her she had done the right thing of spreading some of the family butter onto his bread. He lived out his remaining years exceptionally close to his cousin. She confided in him as much as me about her troubled marriage. He gave her advice while strumming his four-stringed guitar. His advice never amounted to much of anything because her marriage was doomed from the start. He eagerly listened, and she appreciated this. We all agreed it had been a good thing when Edgar died from a car accident.
As winter thawed into spring, Harold ended up dying in the summer. She invited me to the funeral, just the two of us, and we buried him in the local cemetery. There was no one left alive from her immediate family and her extended family were far removed. She had no one to leave her inheritance with so she left it to me, her best friend, and it served me well.
It took several attempts for me to withdraw any amount of money from her account. The closest I got was the bank door the first time. I couldn’t even put my fingers around the handle. The feeling of irresponsibility stopped me. When I got the courage to finally enter the bank, I asked for one hundred one dollar bills. The teller gave me what I asked for, but not without giving me a funny look. I sat in my car making sure the top of George Washington’s head was to the right before I left the parking lot.
I know the exact time when I was reminded time was limited. It was 7:03 on a Saturday night when I asked Josephine why she was giving away her money to a stranger in a strange room.
“I’m not going to live forever,” she said in a matter of fact tone, “and my only wish is to live the remaining years having fun. You might think it’s silly, but it keeps me going.”
She started gambling ones, went to fives, later tens, and only used twenties by the end. She won more than she lost. I encouraged her to find another way to live the good life, which made her sour. She finally admitted she found parts of it ghastly. The body odor that lingered in the air. She used to stuff cotton into her nose, but the smells often went right through it. We both learned to deal with it. The longer you stayed, the less it was an annoyance. Stick around long enough, you win more, which was the whole reason for being there.
I watched people with their body odor give their money to BB. I was amazed at how Josephine hardly looked at him during their exchanges. Most of their talk was through gestures. Before they departed, he gave her a tiny smile. She then grabbed my hand, and moved me through the crowd. I learned the first names of certain people, warned about the unsavory ones, discovered who won the big jackpot the last time, and the unfortunate person named Cliff who wasn’t liked by anyone. He had a habit of eating Rice Crispy Bars and touching people with his sticky fingers.
I learned what “dinner time” meant. It started when the lights dimmed. The predator appeared with its owner. They varied as much as the prey. The first time I saw dinner time I was shocked. The hawk was normal size, but one of the mice was small and the other large. Josephine had bet the larger mouse would be eaten first in the enclosure. She was right. Raptors were just as popular as the snakes.
There had been one anomaly where a falcon had killed both mice at the same time. They had huddled together, almost paralyzed, and neither made a sound until they were both snatched up. Things changed, the main one being a divider preventing the prey from meeting in the middle. People claimed it was confusing to the predator. Josephine pitied the person who kept track of which side it was released each time.
She had a good eye for winners. I had even a better one. I made it a habit of being near the entrance when the predator was ushered into the room. It allowed me to see how it was acting and responding especially when released from its cage or given a little more freedom. I didn’t go to school for this, but observation goes a long way. I owe all my winnings to taking mental notes, and maybe, a tiny fraction of luck. I seldom gave bad advice to Josephine, and now that I frequent this room alone, it turned out I was the better gambler. Not too shabby for a person who thought this whole thing was farcical on her first visit.
Josephine’s final appearance and goodbye left a bitter taste in her mouth. She was leaving familiar faces behind, but not one of them she could call a true friend. They were only acquaintances. Yet, she would still miss the multiple conversations buzzing all around. It softened the blow upon learning her biggest regret was partly her fault. This I know because she told me that same night as I forced her to be a passenger in her own car.
Since her death, BB and I became friends. He took my money inside the room, but outside of it we only talked. We ate lunch at the local diner each month. I gave him stories. He gave me laughter. I respected him more when I learned he was struggling to make ends meet after his wife left him. His two daughters often had to take care of themselves. It didn’t take long for me to sign the remaining money Josephine had left me and all my gambling profits to BB.
I could live off the remaining money I had, and still I felt sadness when he hugged me. I wanted it to be Josephine’s hands. She would never know what I withheld from her year after year. I should have said more, but misgivings are wasted time when you’re old like me. The only thing that mattered now were my ashes. I instructed BB to put them in the same spot Josephine had entered. Our friendship was evolving into something else. There was nothing more for me to do except wait and be patient because that is the final definition of life and death.
March 1, 2018: Where’s the Short Stories?
I’m working on them and will be posting soon.
January 3, 2018: More Production and Less Promising
I feel like George R.R. Martin right now. I’m having trouble producing anything substantial with my short stories or novel ideas. I was having trouble period where I didn’t want to even work on my blog. I’m slowly finding the energy, motivation, and urge to get to busy again. Writing is a lonely hobby and/or interest. You do it alone. You have to or else you won’t get anything done. I’m going to try my best to keep the momentum with my life goals this year. No more excuses. You either do it or not. There’s something to be said when your mentality actually mirrors your actions. I still have a ways to go, but I’ll get there. I was born a fighter and doer. There’s still a lot more to do. Charging ahead.
December 3, 2017: More Reflections on Writing
It took five months to finish one simple, short story. That is how I roll. I hope to have two other short stories by the end of the month, and continue working on my rewrite. I’m way past my deadline, two years ago now, but hopefully will be done in 2018.
December 3, 2017: When a Father Creeps like a Spider on a Chessboard
These simple two words sent me back to the past. The words I often heard. His voice always thunderous above my head, even if I was standing level to him. He made me look up to him, always. He made me come to him when he moved, the most annoying. A father shouldn’t change positions so much, but mine did, constantly.
There were times he crept around like a spider, feeling the vibrations on his legs. I fooled myself many times thinking he was something to not be afraid of. Other times he hopped around, out of control, like a child on a pogo stick, leaving impressionable dents to the floor and my pride. No one ever felt safe around my father. My friends didn’t understand him.
This wasn’t even the worst part. It was when he questioned your existence that made you feel tiny, as if your right to breathe the same air as he did was a tragedy. The constant taunting about how he wanted to drain my blood and refill it with someone else so we had one thing less in common.
“Did you hear me? You overstepped your boundaries again.”
He put enough emphasis on the word, again, that I thought he was done. He was not.
“Did I raise a daughter so stupid? Is this my last reward for being your father? You blessing me with utter senselessness! I don’t even know how you live with your pitiful self.”
I glanced at his wrinkled face. He seemed to have aged a few years in the past ten minutes. I could tell he was at a breaking point. The point when he felt when his personal welfare was threatened. Whatever left was inside him unhinged more, making his half empty heart, emptier. His face twisted into a disturbing expression. This was a record for him. I believe he had reached a personal best.
You must keep screaming inside so your lungs don’t give out. You must picture your flailing arms calm when they are anxious. This was what my brother told me in order to deal with him. How easy for him to say. He stayed in his little bubble until the day he turned 18, and never turned back when he left home.
I had worn my game face before, and because this was definitely a game, I made sure I had additional layers this time. I wasn’t willing to be a pawn anymore on this family chessboard. As I knocked every demand and threat he said to me from the board, I faced the realism of it all. As I tossed every shameful thing he did into the burning garbage can below, I was up for the challenge. As I was no longer willing to have him spit such hatred at me, I was prepared.
Eventually, the king will be knocked off his pedestal, and I intended to do just that. His tall shadow wouldn’t belong to him much longer, but first I said some words.
“Yes, father, I heard you, and no, you didn’t raise me to be stupid. I’m actually quite smart if you cared to notice.”
The past twenty years came up in my throat like a bad case of indigestion. I was ready to get rid of it. I was ready to move forward.
“Now, I believe it is my turn to ask you some questions.”
He looked at me, holding surprise at the corners of his mouth, and I knew. If you take away a spider’s legs before a fight has begun, there isn’t much to stand on but false hope and flawed expectations.
November 25, 2017
I’m working on three different short stories. One is a story between a parent and child. Two is a story about a man with special gifts. Three is a story about a man-eating pumpkins as I started this one in October.
September 14, 2017
My short stories are officially on the back burner again. I wish there were more hours of each day and week. I’m finding myself starting short stories and stopping in the middle of them. I apologize for my indecision, but I tend to live a more fluid life instead of rigid as in the past. I’m truly hoping I finish my rewrite by the end of this year and if not then early next year. On top of bringing back some attention to reading and coloring more, I’m reintroducing exercise into my weekly routine. This leads to the conclusion of I wonder how others seem to have it all worked out.
August 18, 2017
The heat came back on. I couldn’t stay away for too long. I’m going to be posting some short stories soon. The heart wants what the mind does not. My lack of creativity did not last long. I guess I have to stay true to myself and continue along my path.
July 30, 2017
I decided due to the many personal projects I have currently going on that my short stories are going to take a back burner. They actually won’t be getting any heat. Therefore, the rest of the year (Gregorian calendar) I’m not going to dabble in forcing these stories that I’m having trouble concentrating on even during my creative periods. I hope to resume these fun short stories, but not until these remaining five months are done. I need to hunker down and focus on my rewrite, which I have not been doing. I feel like George R.R. Martin except it’s only one book. I have a feeling I will really feel like him when I start my trilogy, but will be keeping it to only three books, or at least, I hope and pray this is the case.
July 21, 2017
I’m having trouble writing a short story. Not going to lie because it’s proving to be a little more difficult. Actually, a lot more difficult. I’m not sure why, but hoping to get over this hump soon.
Reflection/July 3, 2017
I didn’t write any short story in June!!! I’m going to try writing, at least, one short story each month until the end of this year!!! I’m hoping to write a short story soon!!!
A Nightly Encounter/May 27, 2017
As the sun began its vanishing act, the moon became a sliver with its true radiance obscured behind a cloud. It was on this night I managed to catch a glimpse of his being before he retreated into the darkness. His posture was menacing as the black opal dangling from a chain around his neck.
I waited patiently for him to speak. There was no choice. My life depended on it.
“Not everyone flies, and not everyone floats. I do not know what will happen until the very end. You might do neither or you might do both. That will ultimately be up to you.”
I felt a shock in my head when he said this. It started at my left temple and zigzagged its way to the right. I had heard he could be persuasive in a way that left you wanting more. I wondered how long I could resist his temptations.
I could hardly see anything in front of me, and when my ears registered the ambient noises, I wasn’t certain what was making the sound. He had put me in a dizzy haze. I was sure of it, but my ears perked up when he finally spoke.
“Do not take my silence as a form of approval.” He uttered from deep within, like a dog giving a warning growl. “Despite what you believe to know about me, there is nothing accurate about any of it.”
I constructed an image of his likeness as he became quiet again. He was an equal opportunist with his weight distribution. He did not favor the left over the right leg. His elongated fingers, manicured and durable, were often covered by stylish black leather gloves. There were a few times he allowed nature to touch them, but this was only when he was alone. He was born into an aristocratic family, and given a fitting name of Arthur, Theodore, or Samuel, or maybe he had parents a little more daring and bestowed the name of Magnus to him. He did not like people referring to him by his name. I was in process of determining his facial features when he spoke, his voice echoing.
“I could be by your side before you know I’m even there. Would you be fine begging for your life if it came to it? I imagine you want the night to unfold differently. Where you don’t have to crawl on your hands and knees to freedom. Where the little decency stored in your bones is not used against you.”
His words rattled me, sending a chill from the base of my neck to the place where my trousers sat on my waist. His authority loomed over me like an invisible shadow. He had cast his net, and caught his prize. I felt helpless much like the first time I had misjudged.
“Why should I give you any courtesy when you don’t play by the rules with the life you currently have?”
A twig broke in the distance.
“It is time for something a little more playful, do you not agree?”
I remained silent.
“Do you not agree, Nicholas?”
It was my turn to speak, but nothing came out of my mouth.
“You give me an answer as if you never matriculated from a respectable university.”
“My, my apologies.”
“It makes me wonder if the only course of action is to extinguish you now. It appears destroying the misery you feel inside would be a blessing for you.”
“I feel no misery.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t see any reason to allow you to live.” He seemed closer now. “Unless, of course, you want to try your hand at persuasion.”
“Then, by all means, proceed, Mr. Nicholas Hatcher. But, time is wasting, and patience may very well be a thing of the past.”
“Should I face a certain way?”
“Tick tock, Nicholas. Tick tock.”
“Yes, sorry. I’ll begin again.” I swallowed, but the large cotton ball in my throat remained. “I… I… might not have the same riches as some of my friends, but I have never harbored ill will toward any of them. Sure, there were times I might’ve wished to have what they had, but everybody does this. My children are fed a good breakfast in the morning, and they don’t go to bed hungry at night. My wife is most pleased. I would do anything for them.”
“Including sacrificing yourself for their well-being?”
“There are always dangers in this.”
“If I protect them, nothing else matters.”
“But you served your interests first not too long ago.”
“That’s not true.”
“I saw you lying with unkempt girls when you should have been home.”
“That was before the children were born.”
“But you were still committed.”
“I was younger then.”
“What would you do if I told you little Nicholas Jr. and his dear sister do not have much longer to live? That the plague will bring them pain they wished never came knocking? Would you believe me? Or, would you carry on with your life, not heeding my warning?”
“I would need proof.”
“The stamp of authenticity.”
“It’s only fair.”
“But life is not fair. You know this. And, I would not give you the benefit of seeing it on a declaration because I know things.”
His fingers wrapped around my neck in a fierce grip, pushing me against a tree effortlessly, and yet he allowed me to breathe. I’m certain he knew the correct amount of pressure to use on my chest in order not to kill me. I felt the bark digging into my back at all the right places. His face was mostly obscured by his hat and how he positioned his head. I saw his mouth and nothing more. His lips seemed to be the color of maroon.
“You cannot bring back the dead.” He methodically brought his other hand to my face, and covered my eyes. “Horribly, you sent an innocent man to his death. He will breathe no more like I have decided you will breathe no more.” I remained in his grasp, for what seemed forever, when he released me.
My body crumpled to the ground. I had no feeling in my legs. It was as if he drained all my energy. My arms were useless. I couldn’t lift them into the air. I could only muster a shallow inhale and then exhale.
“If you let me explain,” barely whispering, “you will know I tell the truth.”
“A liar in front of me.”
“I saw what you did to him.” His voice became guttural to the point I thought a part of his physiology might have changed. “You are not the one dictating the rules. You are not the one who gives orders. And your insignificant brain seems not to understand that soon you will find yourself in a grand finale.
“Just tell me what you want.”
He flung me against the same tree, pine needles stabbing my flesh when I landed face first. I scrambled onto my knees, and removed the needles sticking out of my palms. “If I’ve lost all chances of living, just kill me already!” My anger increased substantially. “Don’t think I don’t know you’ve been following me since that night. I know you have weaknesses too even though you claim to have none.” I had clearly misspoken. It was one thing to accept your impending death. It is something completely different to invite death, knowing there was the chance of further brutality.
I waited for him to extinguish my life. I waited and waited. He never showed himself to me again that night. I am not certain why. Hundreds of reasons entered my mind of why he departed, but not one correlated to the actual truth.
I needed to get home to my family, but my body was so weak from my ordeal. I was certain my arm was broken. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep, my hand intercepting the pine needles from touching my face. I dreamed of him watching me from far away.
The next morning I was greeted by insistent chirping of birds. The sunlight filtered through the tree tops. It warmed my face as I looked upward. I felt for my glasses. They weren’t there. I could hardly see as I stumbled away. I hadn’t comprehended my predicament until I returned to civilization. There it was in my grasp. I locked my eyes on the blurry black opal with the chain limply hanging from it.
“Curses. Revenge would be coming another day.”
He would return for this. It was only a matter of time.
When he would make his grand appearance, I would be ready.
Dear Diary/May 14, 2017
The screams coming from our house were heard by the next door neighbors on both sides of my parents’ house that day. Mrs. Lambert lived to the right of us. She pushed on her screen door, loosening the hinges even more, with her bony hand to investigate. She was married twice. I don’t know what happened to her first husband, but she looked like a skeleton.
Whenever my mom invited her over for dinner, she always declined with a shake of her head. It isn’t polite to stare, but I couldn’t turn away from her beady eyes in the middle of her shrunken head. It was like she was scared of being in a normal house with normal people. I was glad she had never set foot inside my parents’ house, but I kept this to myself.
Our windows were open all the time except during the rainy days. I hoped my mom didn’t tell Mrs. Lambert about my birthday party. I doubted she would come, but this was the last person I wanted to see because she would ruin it. I didn’t like how she talked either. Her voice was high-pitched and nasally. Her conversations usually went the same way with my mom.
“You know how Jonathan doesn’t like me eating past six o’clock.”
“I’m well aware.” My mom gave her a short eye roll and prolonged her exhalation, all the signals of annoyance.
“Oh, stop it! Jonny means nothing by it.” This sounded convincing enough to me, but not my mom.
“Your flimsy justification doesn’t erase the sting behind his words, and the last time I saw Jonny, it seemed he had put on weight himself.
Mrs. Lambert stammered out her words. “Well, I didn’t come over here to argue. I just wanted to wish you a good day.” And with that, she left without another word. My mom later confessed she probably shouldn’t have made those comments about our neighbors. She didn’t exactly feel bad enough to apologize to either one of them, but expressed her regret. She had been friends with her since grade school. I’m not sure about her husband.
Our neighbors to the right were more personable. I didn’t mind calling them by their first names. Pamela and Marcus were the only adults invited to my birthday party. I made sure of it.
The day prior to my birthday I arranged the top of my desk with an assortment of balloons, paper streamers of my favorite colors, birthday paper plates and napkins, and random noise makers. I wanted everything related to my birthday as close to me as possible minus my presents. My parents had hidden them in their bedroom. It was off-limits to my sisters, and I didn’t feel like getting into trouble even though I was dying to know if anything on my wish list was in their bedroom.
My dad had already eaten breakfast by the time I came into the kitchen. He was sipping his coffee as I waited patiently for my eggs and pancakes. They smelled good and tasted better. His glances at me became longer and longer. I could tell he had some fatherly advice to give.
“Jackie, don’t let anyone say you can’t do something. If you want to do it, then do it. Once you have it in your head you can’t, you might as well give up the ghost.”
“Thanks, dad.” “I’m not kidding around.” “I know.”
“Things like that don’t leave, and set you up for failure again and again.” His advice would be over when he would knock his knuckles on the table. He hadn’t done that yet. I hoped it would be soon. “I want you to see things the way you see them. I want you to see things with your own eyes. I want you to be your own person, Jackie, but carefully.”
“That’s what I want to hear.”
I wondered how many times my sisters had heard this. They had no problem tuning him out during dinner time even when he pointed his index finger at them. That finger always lingered when he came to me. It made me feel important and anxious at the same time. He would end his speech with our responsibilities to one another.
He continued, “I’ve been around here longer than you and your sisters put together.”
I knew this wasn’t true. I was almost eleven. My sister Margery was seventeen and Alice was fifteen. I knew how to count. My dad wasn’t forty-seven. He nodded a few times at his own words, and finally knocked on the table with his knuckles. This was my cue to put my plate in the sink and grab a plastic bag from the cabinet.
My plan was to help my parents after breakfast, but now I wanted to be by myself. My excitement of turning a year older bubbled inside me as it did earlier. After I closed my bedroom door, I removed my diary under my mattress, and scribbled the date with my special pen. It had my name on the side of it, and was a gift from my best friend, Sherry, from last year’s birthday.
July 2, 1981
Tomorrow is my birthday. I can hardly wait. turn eleven. I can’t believe this. I’m four years away from being a woman. My mom says you become a woman when you’re able to have children. I think you become a woman when you can wear a bra. I’m still flat chested unlike my sisters. I wish I could be like them. Don’t tell anyone. They would rub it in my face. I try not to show my disappointment in being treated as a girl by my parents because I don’t feel like a girl anymore. I’m no longer in the single digits. At least my mom doesn’t tell the story of how I was a blessing even though I know I was an accident. My sisters will always be better than me. It isn’t fair. I wish I had been born first. Then they could be jealous of me. My parents probably got me stupid gifts. If my mom actually knew me, she’d know I really wanted a white bra with lace around the edges. I wish I could wear a dress like Margery. And why don’t boys call me? Other girls in my grade have boyfriends already. It isn’t fair. Sherry told me she’s a woman now. Her mom let’s her wear a bra. You want to know what my mom did when I asked her to buy me a bra? She touched my chest. How embarrassing! IT’S SO NOT FAIR!!! I stormed out of the room. We haven’t talked about it since. This was two weeks ago. I’m going to be the only one not wearing a bra to my party. How lame! I just want everything to go perfect tomorrow. I haven’t felt this nervous since I don’t know when. I almost feel like vomiting. I better go downstairs before my parents look for me. They have no idea I have this. I promise to write soon.
P.S: I think I love Danny.
P.S.S: I think Sherry does too.
I thought I had brought the birthday decorations back to my room. I guess I hadn’t because when I went to the living room my dad had already ripped open the red balloons. His cheeks were getting their workout. I counted his progress. There were
fifteen. I tore into the blue ones, and handed him one. I watched him take a deep breath, then blow. His process was a sight to see.
My mom was in the kitchen making my vanilla cake. I requested a lemon filling and frosting. It smelled so good. I knew she would let me have a taste of the frosting if I went in there, but I wanted to help my dad instead. She usually saved some for me anyway.
My dad and I were making good time when one of the balloons broke in his grip, making a loud pop. We both jumped a little bit. He then exaggerated his movements, and it sent us into a fit of giggles. After all the balloons were gone, and our cheeks couldn’t take anymore, they were ready to be hung. I handed them one by one to him in the archway. We next coiled streamers to be hung in the archway and outside the front door. The house was looking more and more like a party celebration.
I was thinking how I would remember this day for the rest of my life when someone knocked on our door. My parents didn’t hear it the first time, but I sure did. I guess girls have better hearing than their parents.
“Someone’s at the door, dad.”
“Are you sure?”
Before I could answer, the knock became more insistent. This time because he put down the streamers on the floor.
“I can get the door, dad.”
“Let me see who it is first.”
My dad could be overly protective. He turned halfway to me. “This better not be one of your sisters.” I smiled. I wished it was. She would be in so much trouble. There was a time for pranks. This wasn’t one of them.
I followed slowly behind him to see who was at the door. The third loud knock brought my mom out of the kitchen. She nudged me aside and went to my dad. He opened the door enough for me to see a police man.
He said politely, “Mr. and Mrs. Simms.”
“Yes.” They said in unison.
“May I speak with you in private?”
The police man must’ve seen me because he pointed in my direction. My dad ushered my mom outside and closed the door behind them. I wondered what they were talking about, and it didn’t take long to hear my mom’s voice.
“Oh, God! Not Margery!” I scrambled to the door and pressed my ear to it.
“I think you should sit down with your husband, ma’am.”
“I want to see her.”
“Let’s give it some time, ma’am.”
“Where is she?”
“The scene is still being processed.”
“My poor baby. Was she decent?”
“Yes, she was found clothed.”
There was silence, and I moved just in time when the door swung open. It hit the wall with a thud. I stood there, unable to move, inches from my parents and the policeman. I had not obeyed my dad. He didn’t say anything. I watched him help my mom inside. She looked out of it, not sure of where she was.
“Mom? Are you okay?”
“Not now, Jackie. Go to your room.” When I didn’t move, he raised his voice. “Right now, Jackie!”
I stood my ground, but it was no use. The police man knew what to do in these situations. He took my hand and led me away from my parents. I asked questions along the way, but he gave no answers I wanted to hear. We entered the kitchen instead, and around the same time my mom let out her first scream.
I had known friendly policemen, but he was not so friendly. The way he looked at me scared me too. I didn’t want to see him anymore, and turned my back to him. This is when I noticed my mom had taken my birthday cake out of the oven. It rested on the stove burner. I wanted a bite, but I didn’t have any for fear he might tell my parents what I had done. He finally left the kitchen when he heard commotion, but not before ordering me to stay in the kitchen.
I finally learned what happened in between all the sobbing and talking of Mrs. Lambert with my parents. I was for once happy she had come into our house. My sister liked to take long walks. My parents saw our town as home sweet home. Young children played outside without any danger. Boys rode their bikes up and down the roads all hours of the day without fear. Girls ran back and forth among their houses without a care in the world.
This changed when Margery was discovered by an elderly man walking his dog. He had noticed her legs sticking out of the bushes. I couldn’t believe someone would be so cruel to my sister. She was annoying at times, but she didn’t deserve to be beaten. She had been the first murder in over five decades.
It became almost unbearable for my sister Alice after her death. My parents never let her out of their sight, and dad insisted on having a strong teenage boy with her every time she left the house. I wish he had said that to me. If I wanted to go anywhere, it would be him with me. He didn’t think the boys in my grade could protect me. He didn’t know the strength of Danny.
I cursed at Margery for ruining my birthday as I laid in bed that night. It wasn’t right of me to feel this way, but I did because mom never frosted my cake, and dad blew up the balloons for nothing. The streamers were useless. The plates and napkins wouldn’t be unwrapped. My friends would never see me blow out eleven candles. I never would eat any of the food I requested.
As my eyes finally closed, I stayed sleeping until late into the next morning. I spotted them before I sat up. My parents had not forgotten. There were more presents than I imagined. The biggest one was wrapped in shiny red paper. I hopped off the bed and went to my knees. I tore off the wrapping paper. This present was on my list. I had finally gotten a boom box. I was so happy. I wanted this feeling to last.
I grabbed another one. It was from Margery. She must’ve given it to my parents before she went for her walk. She liked to leave things until the very end. Tears fell down my face as I tore off the wrapping. I opened the box. It was a necklace with my initials on it. It was the similar to the one she wore. She had never taken it off. She wore it everywhere. I closed my eyes and promised to Margery I would do the same.
Three Novel Excerpts/April 15, 2017
My goal has been to write a novel per year, at least the first draft, but I’ve passed my timeline already in my rewrite. I’m still in this phase with The Forever Stairs, and trying to better outline my trilogy idea in my head and on paper. I hope to self publish my first novel, which I refer to as my “love story” within the year. The love and hate of being a writer in the ever demanding world. There really is not enough time when it comes to my life.
Excerpt from Untitled Serial Killer Story
I sat across him at a restaurant table. When he pointed out his faulty pen, all I could do was look at the blue ink on his tip of his finger. I should’ve felt sorry for him, but the only thing crossing my mind was why couldn’t this guy afford nicer pens. The blue circle on his finger kept getting bigger the more he rubbed his spit onto his skin. I imagined his dermis getting stuck on the bottom of innocent shoes walking by. MY GOD! This was getting worse by the second. I felt the vomit rising in my throat at the thought of him touching me.
After I couldn’t take him anymore spitting on his finger, I excused myself for the bathroom because my tension headache was banging against my temples. When you have to leave, you have to leave. I never should’ve opened my apartment door. I never should’ve hopped the subway. I never shouldn’t been so damn desperate. I hadn’t been taking my profession seriously. There was no stopping the brown whale as my mother used to say once he wants to wipe you out.
My head turned for a brief moment to look back at the disaster sitting at my table. Unknown to my dear friend who arranged this blind date at my pleading, this night would eventually take an unfortunate and random turn. I won’t deny I’d become lazy over the last year. I wanted the same rewards with the least amount of effort. You get what you pay for, and by the looks of it this wasn’t such a great bargain.
Let me divert a little bit. I graduated from high school knowing that ending my sentences with a preposition is a grammar sin. Many people grow up being scarred by their English teachers. I was lucky. Mine for the majority was a hot middle-aged man who had an affinity for periods, commas, and capital letters. I read and reread those classics thinking of his different smiles and forearm muscles. He preferred to be called Mister Z. His last name was Zonfield. I don’t remember his first name. All that comes to mind is Stripes, but that isn’t right. What a perfect specimen to be on the end of my first man crush. If only he had been aware of this at the time, but by now I’m sure his knees are wrinkly and his belly a little droopy.
It was while trying hard not to expel my lunch over dinner where I thought again of my blind date. His face bothered me so much. He had that kind of nose with a slight upturn at the end. It only accentuated his receding hairline. Someone should have demanded he get some hair plugs way before I ever came into the picture. I almost felt sorry for him. Key word is almost. The way my blind date dressed was plain awful with no adequate excuses. Just because Target decided to sell the latest attempt at trendy doesn’t mean his body would look good in it. COME ON! GRAB ONTO SOME REALITY! The shirt he was wearing looked a bit too feminine. He was clearly sucking in his gut under that hideous pattern. His butt didn’t look sexy, but lumpy. Maybe if he wasn’t violating every fashion no-no, he’d find men like myself staying instead of screaming horrors on the inside.
After I expelled my lunch, which wasn’t such a bad idea as I had overindulged in a Krispy-Kreme donut earlier, I wiped my mouth to get rid of all the evidence. My mother was a great role model. She made sure to always make sure my movements count. You had to really mean it. Her attention to detail was above all the other mothers. This brought whispers of her inappropriateness when she picked me up after school. The teachers were afraid she was touching me in ways a boy shouldn’t be by his mother. I saw it in their eyes during the parent-teacher conferences. I spit in my fifth grade teacher’s face when she suggested I was lying. No one disrespected my mother, not then, and certainly not now.
We were just that close. She was my best friend. I was a mama’s boy, spelled M-A-M-A, and not a momma’s boy, spelled M-O-M-M-A. There was nothing comedic about our relationship. It was as serious as cancer. I wash my hands three separate times, vigorously pumping the soap dispenser equally three separate times, and dry them thoroughly on paper towels thanks to her. I grab the door handle with a clean paper towel thanks to her. I am confident when I step out of the shower that I cleansed every inch of my body thanks to her. She taught me if I didn’t like someone or something, I could always leave knowing I did the right thing.
This circumstance was no different, but I was in for a little surprise. My body stiffened when I realized my blind date was gone from the table when I returned. Where did his funky nose go? Who gave this guy a right to reject me like this? Wait a second… is that his fugly body under the table? I smiled for the first time that night. Yes, it was him. He was still there. YES! His body was barely visible under the table, but he was most definitely there. As I got closer, I saw his lumpy butt when it should’ve been planted on his chair. He contorted and writhed on the floor like a dying fish, gripping his throat. I could see his face was pale, but nothing like the blue I had imagined.
A waitress gave me a shove as she rushed past me, and fell to her knees besides my blind date. JEEZ! This wasn’t the Pope on the floor. She put an ear to my blind date’s chest. Are you kidding me? He clearly has a pulse! He can’t breath! You idiot! She pushed on his chest, rather lamely. I doubt she even knew what CPR stood for. I wanted her to be my next based on pure stupidity. She wised up and tried her best to expel whatever was lodged in his windpipe. THANK GOD! I must’ve said it too loudly because she turned and looked at me. Someone else had replaced her and was much more convincingly trying to help my blind date.
She sprung to her feet like a coil and was at my side. “Isn’t this where you were sitting? Is he allergic to anything? Where were you? What’s your name? What’s his name?” I didn’t answer her because I’m not one to give credence to a blond-haired bimbo with a poorly done boob job. This bothered her and then yelled with annoyance, “I’’M TALKING TO YOU! HELLO, DO YOU HEAR ME!” My eyes widened with a crazed look. I didn’t want to bring attention to myself, but shouted anyway. “Bitch, everyone heard you including my dead cat.” Her look of horror was satisfaction enough. She backed up with regret. I had regret too: my steak dinner, just the right spices used and now wasted. I licked my lips once and got out of there.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I walked to my black convertible. No one was following me. No one would be looking for me. I had planned it this way. There was one kink in my plan and that was the blond-haired bimbo. I sped away not sure if my uneasiness about her was warranted. There had to be a pill to help this uncontrollable anxiety I had been having the past few days, but I’m not one to rely on weak remedies. My plan for tonight involved a man dying, but not at the slow pace I thought. He was probably dead by now. This brought the second smile to my lazy face, and then I started chuckling at the thought. If he wanted to be alive, he should’ve brought a pen worthy of his hand.
Excerpt from Jagged Korean Lines
Hae Won was born in the late 1960s in the second largest city. It was once controlled by the North Koreans when they tried to overtake the nation to make it fully Communism. Her father had done his part to help the South Koreans by feeding the soldiers during the war. This had made her father proud to be born and raised in this fishing port city despite the poor living conditions he was raised in and lived in currently. His good deeds during the war was one of the few things he spoke of incessantly to his children. There were four of them: Dak Ho, age ten, Hae Won, age nine, Kyung Soon, age two, and Chin Hwa, age six months.
Up until the very end of their time together, Hae Won regarded her father as someone to be loved and feared. She wanted him to protect her from all things dangerous, but instead it was her mother who took on this vital role. Her mother was the one who gave her the foundation to stand on some thirty-five years later, long after her father was absent from her life. Her mother was the one she felt most connected with spiritually and mentally. They were the most like-minded out of all the family members. This deep connection brought on bigger responsibilities even though Dak Ho was a year older than her and a male. She took great pride in the fact her mother regarded her at the child to go to when things needed to get done especially during situations where thinking quick on your feet was warranted. One second meant the difference between being in trouble versus being in a whole lot of trouble. Her mother did not need to tell her this as she had plenty of experience.
She knew what the look her mother gave her weeks prior meant while eating dinner. It was a bittersweet glance she gave her. It tore Hae Won’s heart open a little bit, but she quickly patched it up with a smile. They ate heartily that night. They had feasted on foods most Koreans ate every night, but because of their financial situation, the fish and pork had become a rare occurrence for them. They savored every bite of it on this particular night. They did a lot of things out of the ordinary too. Their guard was still intact, but their protective walls were knocked down enough for them to laugh at heartfelt stories by Dak Ho and bad jokes by Kyung Soon. As food disappeared from their plates and settled into their stomachs, reality pulled back Hae Won and her mother. No one else knew about their plan except them. They verbally rehearsed the timing of each action for everything to go as planned when her father and siblings were not present earlier in that day.
This night would hold the most risk from all the other nights combined. She must not fail or else there would consequences not even she wanted to entertain. As she picked at the white rice in her bowl, now all alone, she hardly tasted its flavor as it went into her mouth and down her throat. It only made the knots in her stomach grow larger and remind her the importance of what she must do. Her successful completion of rescuing her baby sister was her mother’s dying wish. There had been so much heartache already. She could not bear anymore. She had to honor her protector. Her mother spoke to her in silence. Hae Won solemnly nodded and whispered words of encouragement to herself as she prolonged her gaze at the wall.
Hae Won father’s temperament recently had been withdrawn and his early drinking that night made him pass out shortly around nine. She needed him to retire to his bedroom for the plan to work. Her wish came true when he woke up to smoke a cigarette, drink another beer, and stumble into his bedroom where he passed out around nine forty-five. She waited thirty minutes before leaving her bedroom. If her father did not get up in thirty minutes, he more than likely would sleep through the night. There had been only a few nights where he woke up looking for trouble. She prayed tonight was not one of those.
The moon was at its fullest and brightest when she looked out the window. She held her breath as she shook her younger sister awake. She was ready to cover Kyung Soon’s mouth if she spoke, but did not have to as she was half asleep during the dressing stage. The thought of her being a deep sleeper made her smile. There was not much her younger sister would wake up to until she was good and ready. You could not force her to do something. She beat to her own drum. She walked to her own pace. She would miss this about her. Yet, this reminded her of someone, and that person was their father, and because of this it had worried their mother. She did not outright state this apprehension, but sometimes it flickered here and there with a tap of her fingers or scrunching of her face when Kyung Soon demanded something. Hae Won put this out of her mind as she dragged her younger sister by the hand across the room with a tattered cotton bag slung over her shoulder.
She composed herself at the door and listened. She heard her father’s snoring. It was loud and gravelly. It would take a dump truck to wake him, but he had the uncanny ability to wake up at the slightest noise, so when he stopped snoring her heart skipped a beat. She took a hesitant step when he resumed his snoring, and held her breath again when she passed her father’s door. It was now only a few paces from her parents’ bedroom to the front door, but tonight it seemed a football field length’s away. They tiptoed as quietly as the wooden floor allowed. Once at the front door, she shook Kyung Soon. She half-opened her eyes and closed them again. Hae Won was about to say something like, we are leaving now, but decided against it. Her younger sister would get the point eventually that she was not going to carry her once outside. She dared not look back toward her parents’ bedroom, but envisioned her mother waving encouragement to her. She swallowed hard and held back tears. The only thing she wanted was her mother at her side and to feel safe. She repeated her mother’s mantra under her breath. You are strong. You can do this. You have all the faith within you. You are the right choice. Now go do what you have to do.
The bag dangled from her wrist. She thought briefly how much of a nuisance it would be on the journey. The bag remained where it was, uncomfortable and cramping her forearm, as she was afraid to adjust it at the moment. She pressed onward. Placing her hand gently on the front door handle, it was difficult to turn with her sweaty palm. She smelled the outside air. Damn the mugginess out here, she thought, as well as what she was leaving behind. The new life she hoped to have made her uneasy and excited at the same time. With great intention she had opened the front door, and with equal purpose she closed it behind her.
It was outside her younger sister decided to assault her with questions. “What are we outside for? I wanna sleep. Why you carrying a bag? I’m sleepy. Where are we going? I’m tired. I wanna sleep.” Hae Won had to be careful to not let her sister know what was happening or else the journey would not be taking place. Known as the most inquisitive and stubborn sibling, she told her with emphasis, “you need to listen to me now more than ever now. We need to get away from here as quick as possible. I can’t explain it right now, but I will when we are safe.” Her younger sister nodded and did as she was told.
Hae Won gauged an hour had passed based on the fact there wasn’t any feeling in her arms. She could not know for sure but decided either way it was a good time to take a break. She plopped down and removed a water bottle from her bag. She was so thirsty but took a small sip as this water had to last her quite a while. She handed it to Kyung Soon who also took a small sip, then asked, “Where are we going?” Her thoughts went from her younger sister to her mother to her father to what would happen if they didn’t make it to what would happen if her father found out they were gone. Maybe, he was giving chase right now. This reality made her look in all directions. He was no where in sight. The thought still unnerved her and scrambled to her feet, grabbed Kyung Soon’s hand, and darted off with renewed energy, dragging her younger sister behind her.
It was during the second break she was able to answer her younger sister’s questions. “I’m doing this so no one will hurt you.” There was enough space in between them and their father. He probably wouldn’t find them if he were looking. She continued. “You remember what I told you about mother? She wanted me to keep you safe. This is why we had to leave. This is why I’m carrying this bag. To keep you safe.” She knew she was three-quarters to the police station, but there were still dangers. They for sure would bring them back home if they were discovered. The thought of returning made her shudder. Kyung Soon asked, “safe from father?” A wave of fear moved throughout her body when she thought of what her father would do to her the second the police left. She again looked in all directions for him. Hae Won uttered, “yes, safe from father.”
The chill still remained inside her as they made their way to the police station. She had brought food with her to last a few days after she had fulfilled her mother’s promise, but it was her luck a stray dog appeared looking for a handout. She tried to get the dog to leave, but it kept coming back. It would get close: twenty feet, fifteen, ten, five, but dart off when she moved toward it. She eventually threw a bit of her food and called it stupid as it devoured the rice. It continued to beg. She yelled, “that’s all I have, go away, and don’t follow me.” The dog half obeyed. After a while, it chased after her, keeping its distance so she could not see it. The dog saw and heard everything she saw and heard: cars zooming by, empty buildings, street lights, insects buzzing around, and random people here and there. A dog is a dog and when it barked, Hae Won whipped around to see it chasing something down the sidewalk, opposite of where she was going. Good riddance, she thought.
Pain stabbed the length of her arm from shoulder to fingers while her legs were rubbery and was sure the blisters on her feet were bleeding when she reached the police station steps. There was time for tending to her physical wounds later. The sun would be appearing soon and darkness would no longer be able to hide them. She removed the blanket from her bag and wrapped it around her exhausted younger sister. She instructed her to use her legs as a pillow and stroked her hair as her younger sister fell asleep. She removed a note from her bag and tucked it under the blanket. She stood up carefully not to wake up Kyung Soon and kissed her the last time. She whispered, “I will never forget you. I will always love you. You will be my younger sister forever.”
She did not know exactly where she would go after the journey, but her exhausted body took her in the direction not intended. She stopped in her tracks. Her legs buckled and her knees landed hard on the concrete. The pain radiated through her legs. Her arms raised into the air as she screamed, then brought her fists down hard. Pain radiated into her hands and then up her arms. She pounded the concrete again, and again, and again until her hands were bloody. Tears flooded her eyes and dripped off her nose as she stood on wobbly legs. She unclenched her bloody fists. She had fulfilled her duty, but she was not sticking to the plan.
Time was again important to her and noticed the same homeless dog staring at her. She threw the remaining food at the dog despite being hungry. It devoured it without hardly a bite. She took a long drink of water and left the rest in a littered cup for the dog. After the generous handout, the dog barked as if to say, thank you, and ran off, leaving Hae Won alone again. She stood there knowing the plan was worthless now without food and water. She scurried home as fast as her tired and broken body allowed her. She knew the punishment was inevitable and tried hard not to think of it, but every second counted when it came to her father. She could not get the words her mother told her out of her memory soon after Chin Hwa was born. You must stop him at all costs.
Excerpt from The Forever Stairs
It was not much past eight at night, but it may as well have been nearing midnight. There was not much light inside the empty apartment complex. The light bulbs that had once been hanging by yarn from the ceiling were either broken or burnt out. Yila had walked down these halls not too long ago, shortly after she had given birth to her daughter. She had been hired to clean the common areas and took to wiping the walls with great precision back then. She acted as if she was cleaning a building that held importance instead of one that soon would be condemned. The owner had the building for a long time and had ignored his tenants’ requests to improve their living situations. Over a short period of time, there were not many people living at the complex anymore, and this made her job obsolete, even though it hardly paid.
She would have given anything to have one of those rags in her hand at this moment, in the hopes it would take her mind off of the current events. She did not think she would ever set foot in this building again, but here she was with shaking hands, going down these wooden stairs, creaking each time she took a step. She gripped the handrail tighter, hoping this would stop her hands from shaking. It did little to steady herself and found her knees weakening until she was unable to move her legs at all.
She was barely able to hold herself up, and when she thought of what had recently happened, her body wilted into a heap on one of the steps. The enormity of what she had lost loomed over her like an invisible cloud. She breathed in deeply and exhaled deeper, in the hopes this would prevent her from bursting into tears. Her face tightened, holding back tears as best she could, but a few made its pathway down her cheek. She pawed at her cheek, wiping them away. She remained on the step, her buttocks planted firmly on the wood, as if she was meant to be there permanently.
As she tried to compose herself, the thought of never seeing Laurence sent her hands over her face, and she broke into an uncontrollable sob. The reality was so unbearable that she choked on her pain. Her hyperventilating lasted for a few moments until her mind focused on something else, her daughter. She had to be strong for Yanyu. She focused her watery eyes and could barely make out the front door. She chose to pay attention to its edges. Once I get to the door, I will be okay, she thought. I only need to take one step at a time. I can be strong. I have no other choice.
She stood, wiped her face, and made her way down the stairs. She was making good progress, but her accomplishment held less importance when the image of Laurence’s face entered her mind again. This time, instead of feeling sorrow, she felt regret. She had wanted to tell him so much more as he stood before her moments ago. He had been looking for honesty, and all she could give him was lies. She glanced behind her, as if maybe he was still in the empty room upstairs, even though she had watched him leave.
Her footsteps became sluggish for the remaining descent. This would be the last time she would be close to him. He had been adamant he did not want to see her ever again. His cologne still lingered in the air, and wished she could take a piece of his scent with her.
She was now at the bottom step and rested her hand on the doorknob in a kind of bittersweet farewell. She whispered even though no one was there. “I should have told you I loved you, but I guess it doesn’t matter now.”
She did not see him in the shadows. He had listened to her walk her deliberate steps, heard her every cry, and knew what she was thinking during her every footfall. He knew her better than she knew herself. He had tried over the weeks to convince her of his love, but she had retreated to where they had previously been when they first met. He waffled between letting her go forever or trying one more time to get through to her. He had told himself many times that he was strong enough without her, but it was complete foolishness because when she was not with him, he became a fragile and afflicted man unable to sleep well at night or think hardly during the day.
He came to the conclusion that regardless of how she felt he could not let her leave without saying a proper goodbye. A part of him hoped there was still a place within her heart, as even the tiniest of spots would have been sufficient at this juncture. He needed only a small amount of space to strike a match and create the spark between them again; and after hearing her say those words, he was convinced the fire between them had never burned out.
As her hand twisted the knob, his arm extended out of the shadows. When his hand rested over hers, she did not recoil as he thought. Maybe, she knew he was still there, but either way the situation remained in front of them. She gave no indication of how she felt at the moment, and as she stood there, her heart-beat pounding quicker by the second, it became clear to Laurence another piece of her defense had softened. He leaned closer to her, his lips grazing her ear lobe, and whispered, “It always matters.”
Wild Sea/March 25, 2017
In the sea of infinite waves, I found myself with one oar that day. The wind had picked up, and my hand clumsily hit the side of the boat. I will add it was built by my dear friend. He has since passed away, body mixed in with the dirt by now, and creepy crawly insects having a corpse to explore. I shouldn’t view Tobias as a corpse, but I’m not one to exchange that word for another. He became a corpse when his soul left him, and just because you might find that word repulsive is not a problem I want to inherit. People tend to have little pity for the situations I placed myself in, and maybe I deserve some of it, but it doesn’t reverse my desire to exist. My true love was the only one to understand me. She had a radiance I’ve never seen in a woman before or since our time. I miss her more days than not, but let’s get back to my dilemma.
It floated past my boat with great speed into the wild waves. I almost jumped to retrieve it, but then I’d be dealing with another issue, and that was hypothermia. My children would never forgive me either if I died this way. They never feared me getting lost when they were children, but we are thirty years older now. If I arrive one minute past my projected time, my son and daughter panic. My desire of living out my days in peaceful self-reflection never really came to fruition as I expected, but on this day they gave it to me wholeheartedly. It had to do with my birthday and the fact I was well past my drinking days.
What was tantamount to suicide, I was distraught over losing the oar. My grandfather had never used them as they rested on pegs above his fireplace. I understood the importance of keeping treasured objects within the family tree, and now it was forever gone. I sat down on the hardened seat when my eye caught sight of the oar. I leapt up and burned the location into my mind. I grabbed the remaining oar and shoved it into the water. I paddled with long strokes, switching sides, until I was close enough to grab its nearly identical twin still in my grasp.
The anticipation of holding both my oars unsteadied my balance. My remaining oar flung into the sea. This is the way I’d like to remember it, but in actuality, I lost my balance for no other reason of being old. No one was around to hear my cursing at God, the sea, the boat, Tobias who had died, my wife who had died unexpectedly, and the oars themselves. I scrambled to the boat edge and searched for the oar. It was about ten feet away, bobbing with the waves, and teasing me every time it moved a little closer. My hope was it would float its way back to me as if it was scared of being away for so long. I imagined the water droplets hiding in the tiny cracks of both oars when I lifted them to safety. It would be good to have them back in my possession. When the oars didn’t come back on their own, I recognized my situation with more urgency.
My flesh tried to resist the effects of the icy water when I jumped feet first. I had managed to remember to take off my shoes, socks, and jacket as all three would keep me warm once I got out of the water. The pesky oars that never should’ve left my grip were not visible. I screamed loudly, making the nearby birds take flight. My attention went back to the sea and swam in the general direction of where I had last seen the oars. They were on the same side of the boat when I lost them. I scanned the surface for any hint of my oars, and unfortunately my fingers turned a lovely purple before I found one of them. I reached it in record time for a man in his late sixties. After craning my neck in all directions, I located the other one. I swam to it just as fast in hopes it would warm my body. Hypothermia had claimed most of it, and I was forced to embrace it with open arms.
I focused my grip around the oars not to lose them on my swim back. It took every determination to not close my eyes and sink into the sea in a death spiral. One thing kept me going and that was the warmth of my socks and jacket waiting for me on the boat. It could not have drifted far away, but when I looked up it appeared much farther even though it wasn’t the case. I thought about all the things I hated doing, but now I would take that over my current predicament. I kicked my feet as hard as possible, hunger clawing at my stomach.
The nature of my situation had turned to critical when I arrived at my boat. I imagined the warmth my socks and jacket would provide as I picked them up. If only a towel would drop from the sky so I could dry myself, but my weary body soon didn’t care about that. I fell into a heap and sat there, breathing in and out heavily before starting the task of jamming my feet into the socks. My unfocused eyes remained that way while I tore off my water-soaked clothes. They had the scent of seaweed and dead fish. What an exquisite combination was the last thing I remembered as I slipped into unconsciousness. When I came back to reality, I didn’t notice the goose egg on my head.
The sea went from puzzled to indignant, back to puzzled, and remained at a rumble. I was caught during the roar, but now it was my turn to be angry. I kicked at my heavy soaked pants and threw my shirt into the water. It would have been a sight to witness a sixty-seven year old in his underwear flailing about, but good riddance to it all. I wore my half dry socks with pride and my jacket didn’t fully hide my behind. I’ve since bought a longer jacket to wear in case this happens again although it hasn’t. My shoes were the last to go on and once I picked up my oars, I made sure to smack the water with them a few times before rowing back home. Similar to the sea, I went from frustration to rage. It was going to take a while to get home, and I used this time to release this steam with each stroke. The situation had spun out of control quickly, but now it was calmer. The thing chasing me this morning was no longer with me. The grief of what had happened could fit onto the diameter of a penny.
While I did not know it at the time, losing my oars was a blessing in disguise. Some say God works in mysterious ways, and but I haven’t met any of them. I suppose there are shards of truth to everything. My daughter believes I’m trying to feel better about myself when I go out on my boat. She thinks I’m instinctively sailing toward something better, but it’s all in my head. I’m not sure about this. My son thinks I’m trying to recapture my youth. I’m not sure about this either, but when I arrived back home and soaked in hot water up to my chin, I had time to think about how lucky I was to be breathing oxygen.
The sea can be a small place when there are people fluttering around you, trying to stay afloat such as in a shipwreck; but when you are alone, no one sees you struggling. The day the sea challenged my longing for it, my body was not in the best of shape. I had wanted to give up, but I prevailed to feel stability under my feet again. When my feet touched dry land, I bent down and grabbed a handful of sand. Damn the sea who tried to take me and damn the God who put me on this wobbly ride in the first place, but shortly after saying this I also thanked both for returning my oars to me when they could have been swallowed for dinner by the ever moody sea.
Turnaround Farm/March 1, 2017
We had spent many good years on this farm. The animals were taken care of, by far the best, compared to what it could have been. There was enough food for all of my family and abundance was enjoyed by every relative whether cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and step children. Even the piglets were happy at that time as they were regarded as family. They sat with us at the kid’s table for holidays, but as we grew older and they grew larger, we realized one of them became our family dinner for Christmas. That was the only year my younger sister cried during this holiday.
We would watch my father grab a pig by its legs, wrap the rope around its ankles, and string it up in the air by both feet. He would produce his sharp knife at the last second from behind his apron and slit the pig’s throat with such precision and depth. We were in awe of his ability to kill pigs at such a quick rate. He could corral any medium-sized animal, string it up, and cut its throat. The animal would bleed out, which we would collect for my mother. She loved making those sausages during the summer time. They were so tasty and every time I eat one now, it reminds me how special my mother was in the kitchen. I have never tasted better sausage since her passing.
My brothers were involved in the skinning and butchering process. They were happiest when my father was showing them how to butcher the pig where the least amount of meat was wasted. Nothing was ever wasted in practice, thanks to my parents, as they used everything from all animals. The bones left over were boiled down for various soups or given to our wild, crazy dogs. Some of them scared us, but they protected the livestock when it counted the most, against the coyotes and wolves.
My oldest brother shot a wolf in the head when it came too close to the livestock, but regretted it soon after. The mother wolf was only trying to get food for her pups. He heard them crying for their mother on a walk the next day to clear his head. They all survived thanks to him. He became their provider by throwing them raw beef after he ate supper and did his chores. My father found out and wasn’t too happy about it, but there was nothing he could do about it. My brother was as stubborn as my father was, and this included his decision to leave the family business, and apply to college. His interest was in European history, given he was European himself, and became a well-respected professor among his colleagues and students.
The year we lost much of our fields to a fire, spreading quickly during the summer I was fifteen, was the worst for us. Some of our beloved livestock was killed. It sent my parents into a survival mode, and had a hard time recovering from this disaster. My father never walked the same way, he never whistled anymore, and in his free time all he did was stare into empty space. He did not view life as something to be enjoyed as he once had. He went through the motions for a few years and doubt he realized that he killed more animals in those two years than he had in the previous five years before that. The shack behind our house was filled with more bones than any of us knew what to do with, but we dared not throw any of them away. My father had a knack for knowing when something was missing.
Those two long, hard years was when we changed the name of our farm from Pritchard Farm to Turnaround Farm. We all survived because we asked our extended family to help us during the early morning hours and when they had to leave to tend to their own families and jobs midday, we asked for other members to carry our progress into the night. We all worked hard hour after hour, day after day, month after month, and when one year became the end of two years, we had made our money back. We were in a better position than when we started in some respects. My parents had more dollar bills in their pockets, and our family members wanted nothing in return when offered; but our bodies suffered in the process. Everyone hunched over a little more including myself.
It was many years later when I voiced to my father to sell his farm. I was the closest living kid to my parents along with my younger brother who was about an hour away. He was proud of his green pick-up truck. The rest of my siblings were much more adventurous and moved to other parts I won’t visit. He didn’t listen to me and said I was being a knot headed pig, which is what he said when any of his friends or family said something he disagreed with. It was after his stroke that he stopped being rational. When he could not talk, those were some of the most relaxing times for me as an adult. I had a hard time understanding him, and this frustrated both of us. He kicked me than once because of his inability to speak well. When he had his second stroke and could not talk at all, the frustration between us evaporated.
My father liked to compare us kids. My older brother was book smart. I was not. My older sister had the looks. I did not. My younger brother had both smarts and looks. I did not. My younger sister had the face of Shirley Temple and was bound to be a child star. She never became a child star, but she was in a many films as an extra with speaking parts and then made a name for herself in theater and independent films. They had things I would never possess. I never wanted to be in front of a camera or prance around on stage, which is what I imagined my little sister doing when she rehearsed.
My father told me I had things none of my other siblings possessed. He said I was the closest to him, but just happened to be female. He said it was neither here nor there. He didn’t blame me for my inability to be as tough as my brothers. He said I could do anything I wanted in life, and said he was the most proud of me because out all his kids, I was the one who never left his side. This was where the fork in the road between him and my siblings became wider. I took the left and all my other siblings went right. I felt a duty to stay by his side until the end.
My father told me on his deathbed a story when I was five. My mother had planted flowers with yellow petals and a black center. I took one look at them and hated the color. I wanted them to be purple. I made a sign that read, Purple Flowers, but they weren’t exactly purple after I was done. My collection of magic markers went from ten to nine. It didn’t take long to notice this was going to take forever. I replaced my original idea with a new one. I hid this puke yellow color as best I could on the petals with purple polka dots. He said I had imagination that was hard to harness.
When my mother came home, she was horrified. She took out the paddle my father only used on rare occasions and more so on the boys than the girls. She hit my behind several times, and each time I heard the whack, I gritted my teeth as my mother cursed at me. My father told me to apologize to her for what I did. I readily said, “I’m sorry” over and over, but deep down I hadn’t wanted to apologize. I felt she was mean to me, and I don’t remember crying although my father said I did. He stated it took quite some time for me to calm down. What I do remember was him picking me up and holding me as he walked among the cornstalks. He pointed toward the direction of his recently acquired land and spoke about his vision for his family’s future. Even though I was born right in the middle of it all in so many ways, he made me feel as if I was an only child.
This was what I wrapped my beating heart around as my father grabbed my hand and squeezed. He told me everything was okay back then and everything would be okay now. I told him how much his recognition of me carried me throughout the years. He never let my hand go until he died later that night. I had wanted other family with us, but he said I was the only one good enough to be with him during this time. The actual reason was he did not want others to see him as frail. He told me I could handle it. After placing his bony arm beside him, I left his bedroom where he had slept over fifty years.
I sat down at the table where all us kids sat and thought about the memories of this farm. We lived here, through the good and bad, and best of all we continued in our own ways. We did not agree upon many things as we grew older, but my siblings would eventually meet with me to discuss the best way to divvy up our parents’ land and house.
I took this time and sat alone collecting my thoughts before calling my younger brother first. I intended to honor my father’s wish and did. I buried his secured box in a thick plastic bag where no one would find it except me. We could see what was inside, but not a day sooner, and could not tell my siblings about it until five years had passed.
It was in short time I heard my younger brother’s truck barrel down the gravel driveway and come to a halt much too close to the house. This always bothered our father in his later years. Even though Conrad had lived close to us, I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He looked the same, but wore a different cowboy hat. Being the bigger sister, I held the door open for him and gave him a big hug. He picked me up much like my father did when he was still able to lift me up. It was so good to see him.
I took his hand and walked toward our father’s bedroom. He knew what had happened and stood taller. My chest tightened and wondered was I doing our father justice by keeping his box a secret. I stopped at the door and waited for Conrad to enter. I waited until he had said his goodbye, much like I would do with my other siblings when they arrived. I never told any of my siblings about the box and never thought otherwise when we buried our father. When the five-year mark had passed by, it was apparent to me the box should stay hidden. We had spent many good years on this farm and wanted to keep it this way until our end.
The Killer in Delilah’s Dream/March 1, 2017
Image by Getbetterhq
This was not one of those dreams where the person wakes up in the middle of the night wiping the sweat from one’s forehead. This was not one of those dreams where the person wakes up just in time before the knife plunges into one’s chest. This was not one of those dreams where the car moves just in time before a train smashes into it, or the wife senses something wrong and dodges her husband’s attempt to shove her from the cliff. This was one of those dreams where it matters more on what day it is and how the events of the day factored into the sleep patterns of the person.
A woman named Delilah had been waking up every hour on the hour for a few minutes at a time the past few weeks. She was not certain what had triggered her eyes to flutter and stay open. She only heard the normal ambient noise one hears at night once fully awake. She managed to close her eyes before the thoughts of days past flooded her conscience, and before long she was asleep and moving back into her dream.
Her dreams, this week, allowed her a bit of solace throughout the night. She was able to rest without her sleep being disrupted for a few days. It came to a halt on a Wednesday. The dream was nothing out of the ordinary. There was no reason to have alarm, but some women fear the cliché. A man in a black trench coat, sporting a felt hat with a tan ribbon wrapped around it, and wearing sunglasses even during nightfall may look threatening at first glance, but that stranger often becomes a friend after the initial greeting and introductory handshake. Different styled men go about their lives without wanting to harm women, and nothing evil is in their facial expressions. There was nothing to be feared among these men in Delilah’s mindset. Many men had followed her in the past, in her days as a prostitute. It seems most men wanted a free handout if they could get it.
On the other hand, the man who averted his eyes when Delilah spotted him across the street sent tingles to the base of her neck, down her arms, where it entered into each finger and expelled at the tips. He held one commonality with other dangerous men of her past, and that was the urge to fulfill his desire. The butterfly excitement they felt did not differ from this man. His taut belly had the capacity to hold as many fluttering wings as possible. She maneuvered through the crowd, and at certain points she had no choice but to elbow those that did not move after her initial insistence. She feared she knew this man, and soon felt his presence close by.
A second of time turned into two seconds and two more turned into four as the crowd seemed to hold her back. It took him a short span to be in arm’s length away from her long ponytail. His hand moved effortlessly and grabbed her wrist, instead. He forced her body close to his. She tried, unsuccessfully, to dig her fingernails deep into his flesh. She thought. He must’ve done this before. He’s quick about what he’s doing. She looked down and glimpsed the long scars on his hands. He used her arm for leverage and forced her through the crowd. His other hand pressed menacingly against her back.
When she opened her mouth, her sound drowned in the laughter and screams of nearby children. Each passing moment her opportunities to escape dwindled. Before the throng of people seemed to hold her back, but now they moved out of the way for him. Crisscrossed arms spread apart to let him pass. Life hardly ever worked in her favor, much as it had been as a little girl, when she was told her body was for sacrifice. Her mother neglected this truth to her, and had to learn about it firsthand. When she was thrown her on top of the small table, her father imparted the answer with condescension each time. This duty was expected of her more frequent as years passed.
The point when her dream twisted into a nightmare was when the man shoved her into his apartment. Her knees landed on the chill of the linoleum floor with a thud, the cold seeping through her thin cotton pants. He decided this was not suitable anymore and yanked her by the ponytail. She had no choice, but to follow him into his bedroom where he threw her into his closet, as it brought him the added layer of security. He wrapped his hands around her neck and squeezed. His murderous grip held tight as she lost sense of the surroundings. The lamp bulb hanging from the ceiling was what kept her from losing complete consciousness.
He gave her some reprieve when he loosened his grip. She had the opportunity to damage him with her nails, but it proved fruitless. They struggled against each other, but soon he overwhelmed her. The best alternative was hoping she would be able to rip into his flesh at a later time, and then have another day to live. Her predicament reminded her of the nights she had to defend herself from johns with a viciousness only reserved for those special people.
She lay in the closet, trying to suck in as much oxygen in her tightened windpipe. She wondered when her body morph into a skeleton. How long would it take for a person or people to find her body? What level of decomposition stage would it be? Would they kick dirt over her bones because they viewed me as less than? Would they volunteer to cremate or bury her after the autopsy? Or would they just leave her for the animals to destroy further and not report it? Would she end up in the morgue for a long time because the detectives had given up finding her killer? She condemned herself for thinking about her body’s disposal right now instead of fighting for her life. She should have figured these details before finding herself under the foot of this man, but one rarely cares about death when she has such a hard time carrying out the process of living. Would it be wrong for her to give up the struggle and allow him to kill her? What would God think as the last little bit of life left her body?
Sensing a change within her, his rough hands completely moved away from her neck, giving her a brief reprieve to catch her breath. Yet, her body did not feel like her own, and he slapped her a few times and brought her back to her reality. She thought, I’m in deep trouble. As quick as he released his grip, his hands tightened around her neck again, his fingers burrowing deeper into her neck. Was he trying to produce excess fat when there was not any? Am I so bad that he feels it necessary to excavate the sides of my neck? She had done questionable things in the past, but her past actions were not so severe to equal death, let alone this kind of death.
Delilah teetered between leaving her living world behind and embracing the new world much darker and permanent. His body no longer looked like a man’s body upon glance. He now wore a robe, the darkest black she had ever seen. The hood brought a long shadow to his face. The thick folds of crushed satin hung peacefully on his robe that covered his now transparent skin. He floated above her, not wanting to violate her quite yet.
There was much more playing to be done, and he wanted to engage in this fabrication until the end. She felt the weight of him on her again, but this time only bore half the previous weight. Her survival instincts betrayed her, and soon found herself waiting to be extinguished, her chest lifting and falling heavy, knowing it would be her last breaths. He copied her movements, in a mocking way. She had no idea what his name was and before she could demand it from him, Delilah woke up and found her hands clutching her neck.