Camera Lucida: A Micro-Flash for The Trifextra Challenge

Hello, all. This week I fortuitously stumbled on a new writing Web site called The Trifecta Writing Challenge. Basically, every week they have a different three-themed challenge, toggling between a 33-word microfiction challenge (called the Trifextra challenge) and one that sends writers to the dictionary for the third definition of a certain word (the Trifecta challenge). I first read about the challenge while cruising through the Polysyllabic Profundities blog; please do peruse Susan’s site for some creative inspiration and impassioned prose as well.

This week’s Trifextra is based upon the amaztastic art of Thomas Leuthard. He dubs it “street photography,” and it is stunningly masterful in black-and-white. For the purpose of this writing challenge, the particular photograph we must focus on, as used above, is “Studying in Starbucks,” which is viewable in Mr. Leuthard’s portfolio on his Web site or on flickr.

Finally, I enjoy, and have enjoyed, the obstacle that is flash fiction or microfiction, because it forces condensation. It begs succinct-ion. And as brevity is the soul of wit, I humbly submit my first short fiction (a.k.a., micro-flash or micro-micro flash?) for the Trifextra challenge and await the feedback therefrom. Check out the other writers on this challenge when you visit the Trifecta site; it’s well worth your time.

——————————

Camera Lucida: Time in Focus

©Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

In the darkroom’s womb, Zabe first realized the contraption had worked.

Foreground: The student, her femaleness fogged.

Background: The flash rolling-pins time into a flatline, exposing links to his mother, had she survived.

Advertisements

All Our Horrific Realities: A Dirge

“All Our Horrific Realities: A Dirge”

Leigh Ward-Smith, ©2014

_______________________________________________________________________________

“The family drew cupcakes . . . on her tiny white casket.”

Setting: Here, now.

All our horrific realities

are all horrifically ours.

Sublime in the glint of the scythe,

six-and-twenty sorrows stream into our consciousness.

Salt upon the pane.

I rage against the sloping reality

of the dying twenty-six lights.

Soon enough, the grief heaps up, pushing up mountains in the mind:

Belted welts upon the already bruised back of the world.

Somewhere, suffused cirrus,

susurring,

pregnant with hopes flung out

up,

in devastation,

confusion,

and the iciest of cyclic horrors.

And now, cracked-lip murmurings yet shunt, quick to the chest,

our hell-shocked fare-thee-wells.

I write so I can live

with the reality of our human race, this place:

We are damned, dirty apes–with angers dangerously ablaze.

Can saved Graces now retrieve the six-and-twenty,

plucked pennies from air-strings of aether,

lifted like priceless veils to reveal

the twinned treasures–survival secrets–

the weighted, waiting heart of love and its golden companion, forgiveness?

Never forget The 26.

***

Dedicated to Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Rachel D’Avino, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Madeleine F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison N. Wyatt, and all who were touched by these lives. — “Life always matters, very much”

This poem was respectfully written as a response to The Daily Post’s daily writing prompt of 26 January 2014.

Doing LSD with Hunter S. Thompson

Welcome, readers. This is Part Two of my Hunter S. Thompson-inspired vignette, which was itself an enchanted foray into a recent weekly WordPress Daily Post challenge. My Part One shall live forever, ever, ever at the link. And now . . . Pinch-hitting for Pedro Borbón, Manny Mota.

To discover why most runners do LSD nearly every week, please read on. And feel free to comment, share, or commiserate–I get lonely in here with only my echoes and memories of funny films to keep me alive.running-cheaper-than-therapy-square

PART TWO

E-GAD! IT’S (T)HIGH ANXIETY

The small sandwich board-type sign stood at the front of the store, where the sidewalk was wider to accommodate more foot traffic to the restaurant and bar nearby. A brief stab of panic slipped through my ribs when I saw a woman in a long, dark coat outside the store. She could’ve been waiting for someone or maybe just the “walk” light to cross the street. Something told me she wasn’t there for the seminar, so I wasn’t petrified of her so much as I was of the entrance to the meeting. As a child and teen, I’d begun to build a slippery precipice of fear surrounding any entrance into a public forum, room, or get-together. Think classrooms, auditoriums, cafeterias, or anywhere people were already present and I wasn’t. Likewise, exits, though those were far less problematic. Had I the vocabulary then, I’d probably have been able to brand the perplexing condition as social anxiety. But an argot of the mind had not yet been sifted into my soul, so I always got dubbed “shy” or “bashful” and was told “you should smile more,” “you should talk more,” or, the real kicker, “you’d be pretty if you smiled (more).” As if it were impossible to think a serious person attractive or remotely admirable.

If you want to slurp the more memorable alphabet soup of psychologic plagues, I suppose you might spoon out GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Not to be confused with GERD, though GAD can certainly cause GERD in some people. One almost imagines a satirical psychotropic label as such, malicious though it is:

GAD Sufferers: ‘GERD’ your loins for one hell of a ride for your overly sensitive stomach. What, you don’t have sensitive stomach? It must mean you’re abnormal. Have you checked lately to see if any giant green thing is stuck in your teeth, if your breath reeks of garlic, if something nasty is dangling from your massive proboscis? If you do have gastroesophageal reflux disease, you really ought to have that checked out–it’s probably cancer. I’m surprised you’re not dead already; it’ll probably happen when you least expect it or can control it. While sleeping, for instance.

But seriously, the little acronym with the big, bap rap can be likened, I think, to some Tim Burtonesque mouse with serrated shark’s teeth in its jaws, which miraculously unhinge and grow to gobble up a person’s mojo, if you will. However, as I think of it, the affliction of GAD really reaches its apex as shyness on steroids.

And so, as the panic-stab muscled its way around my innards, ricocheting any china in the bull-shop so that it buries itself in some soft place or other, I begin to picture it like one of those hooks that movie criminals use to break into the museum. It’s thrown into the air, is attached to a rope, and miraculously lands just on the lip of the ledge and can be expanded to grasp ahold better by increasing its circumference. Once it imbeds in a weak spot, it’s darn-near impossible to shake it off, for at least a few minutes anyway. And those minutes stretch as if taffied, but it’s sour candy. And you abhor sour candy.

Here was the terrorizing thought pattern, as best I can reflect the inner chaos of the lizard brain, thankfully brief though it was: ohmygoditstartedalready. itwasatsixnotsix-thirty. i can’t go in, i can’t go in. peoplewillstareatme. peoplewilllookatme. peoplewillseemebeinglateandwrong, a total frickin’ idiot coming in late. I mean, we’re runners. We’re supposed to be obsessed with time, right? They’ll think this probably is emblematic of how good a runner I am, too.

Sigh. All that mangled baggage in the time it takes for a propelled sneeze to leave one’s body, that one nervous-Nelly neuron fired out of control. Dang, if only there were better neuron-control laws in this country.

RUNNERS’ LEXICON

The sandwich board doesn’t give a clue as to the start time, but suddenly I see a man approximately my height come from the left. He was slowly jogging, not a jog-jog as if he were out for a recreational jaunt, but rather a purposeful “I am going to catch up to something, and then I will stop” kind of gait. As he neared, I saw it was James, though I seriously doubted he remembered me since it had been ages since I’d done LSD with the group.

Oh, that? Yeah, I do LSD regularly. Not as of late, however. For LSD, of course I need to direct you to the runner’s lexicon. LSD in this context means long, slow distance. It’s typically the one long run a week someone does, usually on a weekend, to maintain their aerobic base. In my case, I do trip with semi-regularity and could tell tales on myself, but I won’t inject that into this story, which is a novella as it is.

CHASING AVOIDANCE

We say our hellos and he opens the door for me. I’m glad it’s not a prolonged encounter, because I have so much to do. It drains me to interact with people sometimes. Suddenly, the merch in the store, a vast majority of which I cannot afford and none of which I truly Passing Dudeneeeeeed becomes The Most Interesting Thing I’ve Seen in Months, Maybe Years. It’s a great avoidance tactic, because the store is crowded. For a little store, maybe the size of an average dining room and kitchen, it’s nearing about half-way packed. The crowd is about half-and-half. No brown, however. Only white, sadly. It’s split along the male-female line, with approximately 8 of each present near starting time.

There’s Ray, the silver-haired extrovert who could be a Jonathan Pryce impersonator if he wanted to. There’s thin and graceful Sarah, looking years younger than her age, an age range I know only because I’ve seen her name in race results, not because I’ve become a close friend (owing to my social anxiety, and nothing else). Then Brandy, yet another woman I don’t know, but whose name I’ve also seen in race results and who wears the exact-same blue-black glasses as I, I discover tonight. (In my mind, I make an ever-so-witty comment like “I love your glasses,” but it doesn’t come to reality.) Then numerous others, some of whom I feel I’ve seen here and there, but can’t place them according to names, occupations, running speed, or favored events and PRs (i.e., personal records). I inwardly damn my disintegrating memory. It must be Alzheimer’s, a catastrophizing, pathologizing thought chimes.

Roughly in the center of the store in dark-blue, acid-washed blue jeans and a backwards-turned black ballcap stands a younger man with at least a five-o’clock shadow, which was appropriate as it was almost six-thirty, placing him well under the time.

He seems to know a few of the men and one of the women in the store.

“Was your husband playing basketball at the ‘Y’ over the break?” he chats with a woman.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, I think I saw him there.”

Then they talk briefly about kids. His or hers, I’m not sure, as I don’t want to seem like I’m eavesdropping.

As I observe, trying to stand casually, coolly even, calculated to look less nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as my Grandaddy was apt to say, I begin to gather that this must be Scott, the guest speaker. He is from the area, but has moved away to pursue a career as an elite runner. He now works for a shoe company out West, where most running-shoe companies in the States seem to reside. Where a higher density–number-wise but not weight-wise!–of America’s fittest people are. It makes perfect sense.

SHOE-SPOTTING

His black polo is emblazoned with the bold red lettering of his company. His shoes, company brand of course, aren’t brand-spankin’ new, and this I appreciate. My own Nike Frees are spackled with dried mud enough to make any cross-country runner (or “cross” as many of us elide it) envious. Another mini-pastime that fits well with my sometimes-nervous nature is shoe observation. I’d noted many of the folks in the room–those who weren’t dressed up as they’d just come from their job–had clean, new-looking or almost new-looking athletic shoes on. I wasn’t sure whether I’d be running on a treadmill that evening; almost certainly it wouldn’t be outside, for it was both dark and frigid, with a forecast of snow slated to start around 8 p.m. CST, so I’d dressed accordingly–bummily–in a tech shirt, overcoat, and sweat pants.

As I’d cruised the perimeter, a red-haired youngster in his 20s asked, “Can I help you?” quickly realized his error, then said “are you here for the talk?” He ended by complimenting my hat, so I guess I had someone in my corner.

Even Sarah had recognized me from behind the counter. I didn’t usually wear glasses, so again I wasn’t sure if I’d be identifiable. “Hi, Leigh” she called across the store. I moved closer to say, “How are you? It’s good to see you running again.” She related a few tidbits about her recent trail race, not much beyond what she had posted on Facebook, and gradually the conversation lulled and I faded away shyly.

It must have neared 6:30, for the young guy in the middle motioned us all to the back of the store. I had expected a somewhat more-wizened runner, not someone the approximate vintage, I’m guessing, of my “William and Mary Cross-Country Invitational” T-shirt from 1990.

THE (S)TREE(T) OF KNOWLEDGE

I was about the third in line to wind our way past the running supplements and in-race or pre-race gels and to the bright-white back of the store. Two doors led left to bathrooms and a sink sat outside in an open room that usually bore two or three round plastic, picnic-type tables with bench seating. Instead, about 20 individual chairs had been brought in, most white plastic as well. A table full of shoes of every size, color, and “gender” sat to the left of the room, I suppose to beckon to the gear hounds among us.

I made the quick decision to sit near the “front” of the talk in order to better soak up the running-related knowledge–or else make a quick exit, if need be, a tiny subconscious voice urged. Or maybe it was feng shui gone wrong? In any case, I took the third seat along the wall in the single-file line. Toward the back of the building, there were 2-3 rows of about 3-4 seats crammed in.

“First, I apologize, guys. I’ve been around the world lately and my voice is so hoarse,” Scott began. It turns out that the “young guy” is the grizzled running veteran. Lime-green and black shoes with sliver lines and all. He looks every bit the male elite runner, however. He’s a compact five-eight or so, slim-limbed, short-haired. I’m sure he has a down of fine, dark hair dusting his legs and chest.

“People are always asking if I should land on my forefoot or midfoot or heel. There is no one correct way to run. You need mobility . . . to tap into different muscles,” he begins.

At the outset of the talk, which I didn’t know was going to be focused on a certain brand of shoe (i.e., I didn’t even know he was a shoe rep), he promised we’d cover three main topics: strength, mobility, and coordination, doing a few quick tests to ascertain each.

“Okay, guys, now I’m going to need you to take off your shoes,” he urged. “You can leave on your socks, but it will be easier if you don’t.”

Gawd. I’m so embarrassed. My feet look like hell.

The woman next to me quietly laughs with her neighbor to the left–who so happens to be Sarah–“I won’t look at yours if you don’t look at mine,” so I guess it was a gender thing. I didn’t hear any men self-deprecating about this scenario.

I hate to say it, but the room did get a little smellier after that point, but I adapted. Heck, I’d been an athlete throughout my teen years, lived with non-human animals of different types, worked or volunteered at humane societies, visited various senior-living homes for relatives and relatives by the grace of marriage, and changed my share of cloth diapers via the so-called wet method using the toilet (upon which I won’t elaborate except to say that if you have a squeamish stomach, this experience is probably every bit as nauseating as it sounds)–so I was used to irksome smells. No biggie, not one of my trigger issues, thankfully.

Not only was I embarrassed about my funny-looking feet, but I had the goofiest socks imaginable. I was probably about to be exposed as the female Urkel in the room. I thought, at most, I might run on the treadmill and/or try on shoes, but I never expected a sock or foot inquisition. Nobody expects that!

But seriously, I would have worn my runner-y socks had I known. Instead, I had the “Banff, Canada” socks darned with red moose and black bear silhouettes on them. Even though I really liked the socks, given to my husband by a volunteer at his workplace, with the geekiness of the garb calling to me like E.T. phoning home, I thought I’d be outed as a complete dork. It was high school all over again in that moment, but I still cheerily removed the shoes and socks.

GEAR LUST RISES AGAIN

James sat to my right, relating to Scott how he had several pairs of the brand shoes. So he was one of the gear nuts among us. Not that I didn’t want to be a gear hog at times, mind you, I simply lacked the resources. Other times, the passion for acquisition.

“Pass, pass, fail, pass . . .” I was one of a few who fail the big-toe test. Apparently I lack range of motion in that toe on each foot, so Scott grabbed my dorky sock and quickly rolled it up. The table had been moved back into a corner by that point to expose three small rectangular blue exercise mats. He explained that you can “block off” the big toe and do wall stretches to improve and stretch it, as well as roll around a golf ball using the toe and foot. I quickly recalled that I’d read similar advice in a running magazine in the last 2-3 years that I’ve been keenly re-interested in running.

I do better with the calf-muscle test and the hamstring test, too.

I can’t help but notice the three signs, stacked like steps above the small sink in the room. The path to paradise is not always paved and Maybe getting lost is the best way to find yourself and Today is your day to get on your way. Really, it was boilerplate text for the running community.

Among other advice: do some pick-ups during your race warm-up to be ready to go; this is especially important for the shorter races. He mentions Malcolm Gladwell and the 10,000-hour rule, and I later locate a recent Gladwell piece on it. I’d read in the last year a science piece on the Runner’s World Web site discussing new data about Kenyan schoolchildren vis-à-vis this concept and how far they walk or run daily, out of necessity, to fetch water, attend school, and the like.

He advocates “every 500 miles, or 6 months, replace your shoes,” to a spectator question. Ray, the Jonathan Pryce-a-like, flaunts his extroversion, but I like him nonetheless. He’s friendly and self-deprecating, which definitely saves it: “what was that exercise again that you recommended for better coordination?” He laughs at himself as he almost loses balance during one exercise.

I couldn’t believe myself, almost, when I participated on the mats in several exercises, though I took the same mat each time out of force of habit.

Speaking of force, I also made myself to go up to Scott, ever so briefly, after the talk. I took off only my left shoe, realizing afterward how imprecise and, thus, dumb it was. [I should have shown both shoes, because there can be foot-to-foot variations.] I wasn’t prepared to club the poor guy Khrushchev-style, however. “Before you go out to your car, I’ve got a quick question.” I thrust the dirty old thing forward: “I’m not good at interpreting wear patterns. Does this look to you like I’m a forefoot striker?” I inquired.

IT WEARS ON ME

He confirmed the wear pattern that I’d suspected and even ended up giving me a red business card–his last one, for which I apologized and laughed nervously. I felt a little bad for the guy; he was so thin his jeans kept falling down, exposing the tops of red-and-blue plaid boxer shorts that paunched out from the top of jeans that said “1969” along the back band. But perhaps that was calculated, too. I never know with “young whippersnappers” these days.

Making my way back to the cold car, after just hanging on a little bit longer than 90% or more of the people to peruse the gel flavors in the store, appearing like I might be able to afford to buy some shoes or something pricey any moment now, and, thus, avoiding the hated exit scene, I began to let relief crystallize around me, a cocoon to the winter air.

I hadn’t had any LSD tonight, and I hadn’t tripped. Except maybe on the tangly, banged-up, bandaged-up pathways of the brain. I just hope I don’t stand up with any fresh bouquets of bruises.

Benefits-of-Running-from United Nations Road Runners dot-org

Runners Do LSD Weekly–Mostly Without Tripping

running-is-crazyYet another week of 2014 has passed, and still I write. The “assignment,” as I have chosen to accept it, is part of the weekly writing challenge at the WordPress Daily Post. “Gonzo” journalism, not to be confused with Gonzo Muppetism, is the name of this writing game. And it doesn’t even involve taking shots (or dropping acid, for that matter) every time someone uses the word trope, metaphor, meme, or even allusion.

So-called gonzo journalism was popularized by writer Hunter S. Thompson and features stream-of-consciousness, first-person narrative jam-packed with slang-laced dialogue and over-the-top descriptions often limning drug scenarios. This form makes no pretense of objectivity as in traditional journalism.

In defense of what you are about to read; fall asleep during reading; or partially read then tear your hair out in utter frustration over, then abandon, I picked up Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I’m pretty sure, my freshman year of college, which was a long time ago now.

I wish I could say I remember the book with crystalline precision, but I do not. Nonetheless, I think the writing imprinted upon my younger subconscious. It must be said that, although I am not a drug-user, I appreciate Thompson’s writing style and will attempt in my paltry way to do it homage, minus the, erm, chemical stimulus. I apologize that it’s once again late for the weekly challenge deadline, so, alas, I get no pingbacks. One of these days, I’m going to get fully in gear and get some serious blocks of writing done, on time, for these WP challenges! So many projects, so little time.

And now, for something completely different. A gonzo take on the “recreational” runner’s peripatetic life going to shoe seminars and such, viewed through the prism of a . . . Well, you should be the judge of that. (Owing to the lengthiness of this post, I’ve decided to break it into two parts. I’ll share the next part, which is already done, by the end of the weekend, if not earlier, so people can have adequate time to read it.)

*****

Weekly Writing Challenge:

Runners Do LSD Weekly–Mostly Without Tripping

by Leigh Ward-Smith, ©2014

“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” — From Confessions of a Story Writer, by Paul Gallico

PART ONE

For starters, the parking lot was full of cones. Not pleasant waffle-wrapped or chocolate-topped ones either. Garish orange, even in the night, with reflective swirls all over. Really, it was a series of shared parking lots for several businesses–“city” life makes for strange bedfellows or parking buddies as the case may be–and most of the spaces were filled. They seemed filled almost without reason, whenever I would travel by. So much so, that I’m going to comically imagine the biggest parking-lot hogger: Our Lady of Perpetual Movement. In this created world, there’s a nearby church devoted to the worship of motoring and the concomitant sins of self-ambulation (via walking, running, cycling), misplaced ambulation (as through carpooling or public transportation), and nonambulation (staying at home). And, as I am deep in the corn belt, just adjacent to the nation’s bread basket, you’d better believe these ideals are worshipped. I just don’t know what to call the priest. Reverend Newton would particularly apply to the unfolding story/event, but that ideal would extol the virtues of motion. So, maybe I’ll call him Father Ford instead. You can decide whether he goes by Edsel or Henry or some other gleaming name that rises from the hood, called a “bonnet” in the UK, from what I understand, in the form of a naked woman-goddess or swan or the Mercury of Greco-Roman myth or any other form.

In any case, the logic of a delivery pizza ship a few paces down from a pizza restaurant . . . flees me. But, hey, again, the whole bready-corny issue. It is a small town, population mushroomed up to about 18,000 or so, that the husband and I lovingly abbreviate as “E’ville” when we’re feeling beneficent, but jokingly “E’vil” otherwise. It is a nice place in a lot of ways, especially in just the ways that you might posit: low crime, generally high hospitality, a rugged sense of work ethic, and so on. It has even been called a “bedroom community” in recent years, and not for the fact that it mildly itches with the dull lustre of looking into an old bureau mirror in an antique shop.

It was dark, but not stormy–thank you for the line, Snoopy, borrowing from Bulwer-Lytton for the wording. The gravel skittered and gritted its tiny teeth under the tires of our small, white compact car, a Nissan Versa purchased through the largesse of the government in the so-called “Cash for Clunkers” program of 2009. I should say it was rather like a confused zebra, with an upper exterior of white paint but whose nether regions featured blackened bands and tendrils plashed up by road detritus and ice-busting chemicals. The zebra could call to mind a cartoon horse who’d dropped its black drawers, in tatters, around its belly, legs, and hooves (aka tires and undercarriage)

Finally, in the last row, I locate it. The Holy Grail of parking spaces. I passed up one spot next to a set of two cones cordoning off two parking spaces, unsure whether to chance parking next to the work area. My negative-focus mind’s eye could just see some neon work truck dumping debris on the formerly white car or dinging it or crashing into it. As I will elaborate somewhere later, practically everything to do with driving traumatizes me at some point.

DANTE’S CROSSING

I can’t believe the lot is still under construction, though it looks like it’s at least nearing completion. I’m coming around to thinking of it as the Nine-Years’ influenza. It causes brain-ache; is never finished; and is very, very, very, very hyperbolic! I think it was November, maybe earlier, when I’d last taken our four-year-old to the public library across from the lot running parallel. Miffed I had to park on the other side of the library, across a much busier street, I remember waiting–and waiting and watching and waiting on waiting and waiting just to be at the point at which I could be classified as waiting–to cross the road, wiggly child desperately clasped in spindly arms. It was only two lanes (with a short third only for turn-offs), but even two lanes with a darty and cranky (that day) preschooler . . . let’s just say we waited for probably 7 or 8 minutes to cross. Talk about the eighth level of traffic hell and we weren’t anywhere near Los Angeles. Abandon all hope, ye who wait here at the “do not walk” electronic sign in E’vil. Finally, I got tired of standing there and pushing the black rubbery button to get the “walk” signal, which began to feel like it’d be a sighting, however fleeting, of Shangri-La or El Dorado, if it ever did come. “Let me go! Let me go!” he had begun to squirm-scream by the end-point, gnashing itty-bitty, perfectly white but gapped teeth, whose spaces were probably lengthened by a serious thumb-sucking habit that first surfaced in the womb. We’re working with him on some recent acting-out tendencies, but still he began to rain small blows on my shoulders and arms as I walked farther down the street. Most of his abdomen was now exposed to the chilly air as he attempted to touch feet to concrete–to be free, at long last. Though I was devoted to him, at that moment I was no less a warden than if I’d been the super of Sing-Sing.

So, we walked about 50 meters down and waited only about a minute then ran across, one carrying the other. In this case, fortunately, I carried him. Ironically, given that one of my favored avocations is running, I resented that I had to walk “so far” with a preschooler who ending up kicking off a well-worn black Cars tennis shoe in the miasma of babytoddlerkidangst. Thank goodness that was only in the drugstore parking lot as we waited for the second time to cross. I sure wasn’t prepared to dart into the road to retrieve the shoe.

And yet, here I am tonight, at the running seminar–wondering how many people can wedge into the store as I negotiate a full parking lot, having driven the half-hour drive from home under the threat of later snow. I hated night driving almost more than anything, but I had kicked myself in the rear and gotten out of the house, if only to pick up some magnets at the craft store so my husband could help my daughter finish her Pinewood Derby car.

NO SPRING CHICKEN

I only complain about the drugstore parking lot to library walk because I’m a chicken. A prairie chicken these days, I guess, but a thin-armed, earth-bound critter skittishly pecking at things, nevertheless. A sort of Middle-America ostrich am I. I can run decently pacey, at a good clip in most race situations, but I suffer with pull-ups and push-ups. Or practically any exercise involving “ups.” I snicker now thinking about it; this scenario could be because I sure am a downer at times.

I don’t have bicep bags (yet), but it’s only because I make up for them with the raccoon canals under my eyes and the stretch marks on my thighs and stomach. As to the eyes, allergic shiners, yes, but I like people to think I’m up late every night, slaving over . . . what, I don’t know; just so long as they know I’m suffering for my art or something.

Until the AllerFlu Vortex of 2013-2014 smashed into our household, I was cross-training by doing light weights about two times a week, which didn’t include any sets or reps of preschooler-lifting. The holidays, of course, shredded the itinerary, but my arms didn’t carp about the break.

And so, carrying a 35-pound weight, no matter how adorable and semi-tow-headed in his “rawr” dinosaur long-sleeved henley, was no picnic. Mainly because it was not childless. True picnics should only be shared by consenting adults, sans children. Okay, young-childless at least.

MY FRIEND, AMY G. DALA

But, back to the present and back in the Versa, it was a headgear change to make Super-Man leap tall buildings in steely admiration. Do I leave on the reflective neon-orange and blue reflective baseball cap that I’d won at the bank giveaway or do I instead keep the red “12+ styles” headbandkerchiefaclavaneckgaiter at a hippie angle to cover up the stray grays? I opt for the ballcap alone and shoulder the pumpkin-and-black canvas bandolier-style workout bag (say that five times fast) with the single too-long cinch-strap. It slack-drag-scraped the ground and slapped nearby objects if I walked too “femininely” with a sashay of the hips, and I secretly feared it would conk a living being someday. It’s only a matter of time, you klutz! my socially anxious amygdala shrieks. Now there’s a great combo: clumsiness and running. I won’t even assault your senses with my one and only prom dress-wearing experience and how it relates.

I thumbed the “locked” symbol on the black, white, and red key fob. Bip, bip, booop. “Three locks. That’s a good number,” I think. The Versa’s head and tail lights flashed orange, but they were lighter than and thus didn’t match the hue of the Day-Glo cones in the lot.

Auditory assurance, check. Ready to face the crowd . . . nope.

GEAR LUST . . . OR BUST

I swiveled my head several times before setting out diagonally then straight, then heading right. This direction, you had to pass the dumpster in the mini-parking lot between the back of the building the running store shared with a photography business and the auto-parts store. The trash smelled vaguely like what I imagined a curdled-cheese pizza splashed with antifreeze and basted in cat’s piss would.

The sidewalk parallel to the side of the running store/photography shop makes me a tad nervous. It’s very close to the street–I’m thinking only about 4 to 5 feet–which causes me to glance over my left shoulder a couple times as I’m walking down toward the front of the store. My puffy, purply winter jacket shushes against itself as my arms work.

Had I chosen wisely and well? Even in a runner’s world (allusion intended), gear takes on a prominent role. I must admit, gear lust sometimes rises its ugly flashing LED headlamp-covered head even in me. Certainly this cash-poor hoofer could never hope to compete with the monied runner who’d no doubt make an appearance at the event. He or she was the one who always had the latest, “greatest” possession to “enhance” a hobby that was supposedly about getting back to the basics of Nature, getting down to the nitty-gritty and knocking back the miles, with a minimum of gear and expense and hoopla. This gal or guy had closets- or basements-full of running shoes to make Imelda Marcos either jealous or proud. Nonetheless, I basked in my own smugified essence, hoping I projected a not-giving-a-damnedness about others’ opinions of my gear or lack thereof. If anything could be said for me, I was a frugal shopper, out of both necessity and a weird thrill generated when ferreting out a bargain.

The side door to the running store wasn’t in use tonight. Drat. I couldn’t make a stealthy entrance. It was nearing a blacker dark by then, so I opted to continue to the front of the store. Normally, for community runs the side door would be ajar, with runners in various stages of personal renaissances egressing and entering. By and large the crowds, which ballooned up to probably about 35-40 during 10-kilometer training runs, were white, aged 30s to 50s, and presumably middle- to upper-class folks, which could be quite a drag to me sometimes. I fit within the not-too-buoyant curves all right, I suppose, but I craved a different diversity. I missed the African-American man who briefly chatted me up during one 10K run, but whom I seldom saw again. The hats hid my grays pretty well, but I still probably gave off the “old and married” vibe like crazy–and it wasn’t as if I was looking for a date. Hey, even I am permitted a few vain moments, aren’t I?!

PART TWO COMING SOON TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU

When We Were Handfuls of Dust: Part II of Cliff-Hanger

Hello, and thank you for visiting or returning to this little experiment I’m tentatively thinking of as the fiction junction (I’m sure the name is already taken, however). Here on my Wordsmithery blog, I hope to present at least one fiction piece weekly, making use of varying lengths, a gaggle of genres, a menagerie of styles, and so on. Right out of the box with the second post–and the first fiction presentation after the “Fiat Lux” introduction, I probably bent my already-plastic rules a bit by undertaking a cliff-hanger as part of the challenge presented by WordPress’s Daily Post, then evidently I missed their deadline for pingbacks for the second part of the cliffhanger. I also came to their challenge a bit late as well. All that said, I was already committed to finishing or at least advancing this young adult fantasy with possible paranormal elements, and I enjoyed reading other posts besides. I’m a new-old blogger (for a little mystery, you can parse that one!), for those who don’t know me. So, I am still navigating all the elements to a modern blog using WP; this is a roundabout way of saying that I might throw a poll at the end of the story if I can get it to work correctly and the demands of parenting will allow. See what you think with this follow-up story (after acquainting yourself with part I if you haven’t already), and I welcome any and all fruitful feedback, as ever. I’m even thinking this week of posting a self-critique of both parts, because there are definite stumbles in each section of the story.

And now, without further ado, here is the second part of Sam’s story:

++++++++++++++

When We Were Handfuls of Dust,

Part II

© Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

N.B.: Contains mild profanity and possible triggers for susceptible persons

from Part I: As I stoop down and reach for the book, The Faerie Queene, which is turned upside-down and looks like the roof of a gingerbread house dreamily decorated with a myriad of animals . . .

By Nils Blommér

This painting is titled “Ängsälvor” (“Meadow Elves” in English; by artist Nils Blommér in the 1850s), and it was obtained via Wikipedia, through which it is in the public domain as a photograph.

. . . the menagerie in book form seems to undulate on its own. You should have seen me jump! I mean, already I am the kind of person who’s more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs, but then add on top of it all this unexistence crisis. I bumped another stack of books as I scooted back and fell on my butt. Amazingly, the books didn’t topple like dominoes. A funny thing happened, though, and I wasn’t on the way to any forum—as far as I could tell, anyway. From that vantage point I could just peek under the “roof,” but what I saw made me rub balled fists into my skeptical eyes and blink the dust away. What appeared to be a miniature human-like creature huddling, a bit stooped itself, was smack-dab in front of me. A sniffing interrupted my astonishment, and I became aware K.B. had nosed in after me, which catapulted a kind of panic to land solidly inside my already coiled-up gut. The little figure let out a muffled squeal for the both of us, and then I saw a little blur dart out away from the dog’s direction and mine. Its blue garment fanned out and long brown hair spiraled back, which led me to believe it wore a dress of some kind. Is it a girl . . . elf? What would that be, a gelf, maybe? That’s the best word I could come up with at that spurred moment.

Snapping fully back to this gnarly reality, I quickly realized I had to catch it before K.B. did. K.B. wasn’t vicious in the least, but she sure wouldn’t hesitate to play with a squirrel or other little critter if she could get her paws on it. Playing, of course, meant vigorous head-shaking, mouthing, critter-tossing, and an altogether bad time for any small furry I’d ever seen her encounter. So I hoped the training we’d done back in the fall would kick in when I needed it, for something made me think this . . . whatchamacallher . . . might be important to the mystery of what was happening to me. And not just for the “wow, that’s awesome!” aspect of finding a mythical creature. What I mean is, nobody expects to find a unicorn munching clover in his backyard or an ogre next to the rubber ducky in her bathtub. Nobody outside of Piers Anthony, anyway. (A Groucho-esque voice intruded just then in my head: “Outside of Piers Anthony, it’s a reeeealllly dark and depressing place”! What a uni-CORNY joke, another part of my mind half-way teased, then snickered.)

I clicked in my cheek and gave the “sit” command just hoping. K.B. whipped her head around, whimpered, and then sat her wiggly, stub-tailed bottom almost to rest on the dried blood–brown carpet. I moved around the first disturbed pile to where the creature had run, and left of K.B. But she had moved out of sight again. Smart move! I wondered if I’d be able to find her among the tight and not-so-neatly stacked piles. I’m guessing there was  a good 500 or so books shoehorned into the room, even below the blinded window, and interrupted only by a small walk-in closet where Grandma’s cat, Pepper, had hid seven mewling kittens just a couple months ago. I loved those little puffballs, but, still I wished Grandma would get her cat fixed. Drifting, my mind fixed on a distant buoy, one where I was a veterinarian performing life-saving surgeries and routine exams; a hero to people who loved their pets. If I chased my dream of working with animals, all the way to vet school . . .

“Woof!” K.B. hardly ever barked, but this muffled outburst was enough to bring me back. The closet door was closed, and I moved over to open it just in case. Nothing I did seemed to budge it, though, so I figured something must be keeping it latched. Weird. But I didn’t have time to deal with it now. The gap under the door was so low and slender, I doubted the girl-creature could get under it anyway, so I hopefully scanned the nearby stacks. Nothing. Damn! Despairing, I let my skinny legs sink me low. It had been that kind of a day—one big ol’ letdown—and finally the tears dropped. I noticed they were real as they fell but seemed absorbed instantly into the tide pool of carpeting.

For better or worse–mostly beyond the latter—as I grew up, it seemed that this was my family and the circumstances were never going to change. The family would keep disintegrating around my ears, never mind what I did or how I felt about it, laying an ugly, unexpressive ash over my dark curls. My Fate was kind of the Road Runner to the Wile E. Coyote that was me. It would jet out its tongue in derision, then run, leaving me a loser or at least none the closer to self-knowledge.

I guess there was some comfort, a tiny security in the chaos. The family was as certain as Pisa, and though it leaned at an odd angle, it stood. Good, bad, or otherwise, it was always there, tilt and all. Now, I wasn’t so sure it wasn’t Vesuvius itself. Or, if not, at least in the encircling shadow of that epic ancient volcano that sealed its neighbors in a powdered, airless death pose.

What did I do to deserve this? I began  to wail and rock myself. From a distance where my outburst couldn’t be heard, I thought I probably looked like a farmer greeting the rain during a drought, with the broad, flat plains of his palms parallel to the sky and his eyes sprinkling happy tears of their own. But joyous tears were ancient waters, running deep and curving enchantingly away, receding from the hell of what shared the table, couch, bed, and bath with us. Or was us, maybe.

K.B. began to whine, probably in response to my distress, and if she’d had a full tail it might have thudded the carpet in nervous abandon. Just then, “shut up, dog!” echoed from another room. It was Momma. I was surprised she heard, because she was usually so involved with a book or writing numbers—or out at a bingo place. She was even gone most schooldays this year when I had almost tumbled off the bus and slogged in with way too many books in my backpack. I saw a program tucked in among the random papers a couple days ago announcing an event for this weekend, printed on neon-pink paper:

$$$50 pots, crazy &/wild bingo—free (yes FREE) hotdog’s, and coffee; come, one, come all!!!!!! Bing-Ohhh!!!!!!!

It screamed with its abundance of unnecessary punctuation. Mrs. Hendrix’s head would have snapped off at the neck to see such “abysmally horrific grammar,” as she put it. I was secretly glad I didn’t have to diagram or rewrite any sentences that Jack’s Bingo Parlor had cooked up for their fliers. Mom had dragged me there a few times instead of letting me stay home. The days-old coffee was okay; the hotdogs, I don’t know, since I don’t like those. I guess the coffee made me feel more adult, so I tolerated it, but it always felt like drinking cigarette ashes because it was so bad at Jack’s. About the only thing going for the place was that it had fewer people, which meant the mushroom cloud there was only at threat-level seven for my asthma. I felt sorry for whoever owned the stores on each side of this parlor, because it must have really stunk to high heaven with all the smoke and smokers everywhere. The entire atmosphere made it seem like the perfect place for hope and luck to choose for a murder-suicide.

It took me by surprise when Momma came through the doorway to berate K.B. again. “What’re you whining at, you fool dog!?” And K.B., like many intelligent dogs, seemed to take it to heart in some way—if nothing else, it was the tone.  She slid down onto her shaved pink belly, her muzzle between outstretched paws but curled away from Momma, as if wishing that by not seeing Momma, Momma wouldn’t see her. Nor would her outstretched hand be able to swat K.B. or hook onto and then drag her out by the collar. “I don’t know why we don’t ship you to the pound,” she concluded over saucer-sized spectacles when the dog didn’t rise to her sneers. She also didn’t notice me. Nor did she bother picking up the spilled books. I was glad for the junkiness of it all this one time.

“Please come out,” I tried again, falling into a puddle of strength, somehow. I was now more convinced that no people in the house heard or saw me, but I was less sure whether that applied to mysterious or mythical creatures. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.” I waited as long as I could stomach the patience, but nothing happened except a faint rustling I couldn’t locate in the room, though K.B. turned her head in the direction. “My dog’s name is K.B., and she won’t hurt you either. See? She’s sitting because she does what I command, so she won’t move until I tell her to.” Now there was no sound. “My family call me Samuel, but I like Sam better,” I spoke to the silence.

It was only a moment until a quiet-seeming “I know” punctuated the air. It definitely sounded like a girl’s voice.

“If you already know me, how come I don’t know you? I mean to say, please tell me what your name is.” The silent treatment again.

But trust seemed to be building, for she spoke again, with a briefer silence separating us. “I am called Flora. Flora Mae Jacobs. Or I used to be.”

She was surprising me already. I didn’t know small, potentially magical people had last names.

“Who . . . I mean, what are you, Flora, if you don’t mind my asking?” I ventured the question, hoping she wouldn’t take it as rudeness.

“I think I am just like you, Samuel Osric Blinn.”

“Please, it’s Sam. Just Sam  . . . Sam-I-am, thank you, ma’am!” I tipped an imaginary cap and grinned in the direction from which her voice had come, edging ever so slightly closer.

The silly joke hadn’t seemed to register. Either that, or she was as petrified as I was. She was still hiding, after all, but at least she had poked the rounded ends of what seemed to be two black shoes from behind a stack of books on the right wall, adjacent to the closet door. In that area, the four or so stacks that moved out away from the wall had some separation from some of their neighboring stacks, at random, so that on one side, they were cross-hatching with nearby books, then on the other there was a small canal separating them from other stacks. It seemed to be just enough that a small creature—uh, person—could walk between some of them.

I tried once more. “Will you come out, please? If you’ve watched me enough to know my middle name, which I hate and never, ever use, you know that I’m honest, right? And if I’m honest, then you should believe that I will keep my word. And I really will. K.B. and I won’t hurt you, Flora. Can we talk face-to-face, or at least face-to-top-of-head?” I smiled politely, hoping she’d understand I meant that in the best way possible. I never thought I’d be taller than just about anyone; so far, I took after my five-foot-six dad, or five-foot-zero mom, in that regard.

“It is not you,” she began low then stepped from behind the books, “that I am . . . concerned about. It is the others in this house. As for your dog, we used to have one, too. My brother, Milo, and I found him back out there near the pond, with a ripped paw. We named him Charlie, after one of my favorite movie stars. Milo and I used to . . .” Her voice trailed away, so much so that I was afraid she was going to bolt. “So I am not scared of your dog. Besides, I have watched and even petted her before. I know she is friendly.”

As ambient noise floated in from outside, I think we all became aware of movements out beyond the small living room in the open house: the distant sound of the refrigerator door closing more than a little too hard, then ice cubes propelled into a glass, and bits of a conversation. “Report it . . . I don’t have . . . my husband collects . . . take it, then, see if I give a . . .” I could tell Momma was on the phone and pacing around like penned-up tiger who hadn’t eaten in  a week.

Meanwhile, K.B. again whimpered and wiggled where she sat, not moving otherwise, as the voice ballooned and shrank, finally rising and coming closer at once. She looked from me to the girl in blue, like she didn’t want to let either of us out of her sight. Just then, the door swung fully open, quickly, and Dad plunged in, in a hurry. Looking straight through me as I looked into his eyes, he instead went over to K.B. and hovered menacingly. The way I see it, he was goaded into the display by Big Momma, the evident silverback in human-female form. “Look, Dog, you can’t make a mess in here or be so annoyingly loud. She’s on the phone with somebody in there. Another bill collector, from the sound of it. She sent me in here to keep the peace, but you better believe she won’t hesitate to take a piece if she storms in—and it’ll be a piece of your ass, not mine! So, BE QUIET!” he shouted as he wagged a short, stoutened index finger at the cowering dog. His sallow blue eyes had seemed to both dull in the irises and narrow overall from a rounded-semicircular shape to a half-moon one. Except in this case it was the moon rising over a small, fleshy mound; I always wondered if I’d have eye baggage once I got older, if it kind of went with the territory of being an adult and having “responsibilities,” whatever they truly meant. The way some adults said it, reeeee-sponsibilities, lengthening the word to practically double its normal size, which was already massive, made it seem like a fakey code word. A wink from adult to adult that only they were in on the joke and calculated to scare us kids into good behavior. Well, I always was one to mind them pretty well most of the time. It was either that or the hickory switches came out of the woodwork (pun intended, I thought), “just like my daddy used to do to make me mind him,” as Momma would say.

It was probably a good thing that Flora had ducked back into the stacks as she heard footsteps coming in. Our conversation so far made me wonder if she had been poking around the house a while, maybe even longer than we had lived in it—for close to the last six years. We didn’t know a lot about the place, but the seller had told us her “old-maid aunt” had owned it since at least the early forties and that the house was built sometime around “the Great War,” in 1915. Even at my age, I wasn’t too sure why any sane person would think a war was great, but I guess they couldn’t very well call it the Big-Assed Disagreement, or BAD, at least not officially or for history books anyway.

As swiftly as he had entered, Dad moved out of the room with a bit of a wobble, but he left the door so it was agape. The conversation from outside had ceased for the time being. I realized I’d been biting back my breath and didn’t even know it just then. But would Flora ever come out again? I didn’t want to lose her—a potential friend, if nothing else, as I went through this crisis.

“Flora?”

“Yes, Samuel?” She moved shyly from behind the stacks and came almost to stand a foot or so away. “Can we go somewhere else to talk? I hang out in the basement area a lot. It’s kinda my playroom and sanctuary all rolled into one. Are you able . . . I mean, do I pick you up or . . .?”

“I am able to move on my own quite nicely, thank you. I guess you do not realize it, but I have lived here for awhile—in the cabinets, in the walls, whisper-quiet. But this is not the first time I have been overlooked.” Her last word was almost inaudible.

I hated tense moments like this. Her tiny head dipped down and to the side, revealing the yellow ribbons at the nape of her neck. I figured her to be probably my age, but she was very oddly dressed. That is to say, most teenage girls, in my limited experience, wore shorter dresses. But blue jeans or leggings were more the norm at my school. Or at least they were; I had just gotten my latest—and last—report card for Purvis Middle School (yes, we were not only “purvs” but got the unfortunate PMS acronym, too, much like my horrific string of names). I was getting ready for the next grade, which included a larger school and probably even bigger obstacles than finally asking out Ashley or telling off Richie, if I ever percolated the gumption to do either.

“Let’s go,” I enthused, hoping I covered up any momentary awkwardness. We were at the stage that I didn’t want her to feel bad or to know that I knew she was feeling bad. I practically drifted through the house and down the wooden stairs as I kept turning back to watch her run from hiding spot to hiding spot. K.B. probably provided a pretty good diversion, too, loping through the small rooms. And I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think she was visible to Momma and Dad either. Sometimes, I reckoned then, it was good to have someone in your life—even if you were currently no one.

THE END . . . for now

****

Meet My Friend, Mr. Cliff Hanger

So, here’s the first . . . dose, I guess you could say, of fiction for the first week of the year 2014 C.E. by yours truly. A day late, I suppose, but much less than a dollar short, I hope! Throughout the year, I hope to present a myriad of fiction, perhaps even the occasional poem and definitely a nonfiction piece (especially on the craft of writing, publishing, language, and the like), though I expect the format and other things will fluctuate and be refined as I gain experience and skill with blogging and other matters. Coincidentally, this story dovetailed with a lot of reading I’ve been doing the last 2 weeks on the Internet, most notably The Daily Post at WordPress, which is holding a cliffhanger challenge this week. Do check out the challenge, for you will be fascinated, shocked, overwhelmed, touched, awed, and more by the smorgasbord of posts on the lengthy blogging banquet table. Here’s my offering to the trial-fires of the challenge; I am hopeful it will be neither the nadir nor the incineration of my fledgling 2014 blogging adventure. In advance, I should also add: criticism always welcome, and I hope to read more from you.

When We Were Handfuls of Dust

© Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

Genre: Probably teen fantasy/paranormal? Possibly straight-ahead “modern” fantasy fiction or paranormal

N.B.: Contains mild profanity

—–

From the time I was little, I could always tell when Momma was mad. Her lips would get real thin and pale, looking for all the world like two snakes stretched out side-by-side, coil-for-coil, on a hot rock. I’ve never seen a pink snake, though, so I could be wrong. But things had changed since Daddy was furloughed—that means he wasn’t working anymore—and Grandma came up from Kissimmee to live with us. Even if I switched the forks with the spoons, putting ’em in the wrong slot of the dishwasher, Momma didn’t notice. My latest report card, a light-green monster as I thought of it, sat on the dining room table that we didn’t eat at anymore, just under a pile of hardback books, rolling out like a taunting tongue. Old mail crinkled its plastic when I sat down and my feet fidgeted, and I started to wince in the way I used to, with my scared shoulders bunching up and my nose feeling like it had become a vortex into which all the other features on my face was sucked. And that’s when it happened. As Momma snapped her head up from the yellow notepad where she wrote equations all the time, she stared in a scowling way. It kind of felt like normal again, and I was about to smile. That was until she walked up to my swivel seat and put her hand out quickly, straight through my chest, reaching to grab her monogrammed purse that was slung over the chair.

I bobbed my head in disbelief and felt the inky black curls jitter around, as if sand in a hurricane. In one swift second, less than a blink, I think, my body had seemed to disappear. Or maybe I’d started the process of unexistence, somehow. Between you, me, and the fence post, I began to shake and sweat beaded all over my body at the same time, almost instantly. But for all the, um, moisture, tears wouldn’t come out; they felt frozen in place—and I did, too, though I was rocking in my Keds.

“Mom?” came out a little more froggy than I had hoped. I was glad Donny from down the street wasn’t here to rib me about this un-toughness.

Nothing. She had moved back around to her seat and was now scribbling on that pad. Then she looked up, and I almost got religion—or a kind of belief; the faith of having hope—but it was squelched when she only raked her eyes across the crowded table. “Dammit! Where the hell is that calculator,” she interrogated the air and slammed a fist down near the ice-popping drink Dad had just poured for himself using a velvety purple bag. In her rush to find the calculator, she shoved Reader’s Digests, a couple magazines with Sylvester Stallone snarling from the covers, old notepads full of strings of numbers curled atop numbers, and still more mail announcing “You’re a Winner” over the rounded wooden edge. The avalanche took a glass salt shaker with it, and the container smashed when it hit the floor, sending up a tiny puff of dust. I don’t know how it missed the existing mess.

I was more than a tiny bit surprised when she ignored the sound and turned the fury of her attention to the countertop in front of the coffeemaker.

“What was that?” Grandma’s voice carried from the living room and down the hall.

“Nothing!” was the reply, but it seemed by that point that I was watching a kind of TV program, not living anymore, but not exactly dead. Had I disappeared? If I had, was I some kind of superhero? I began to try to move my legs, move toward Momma or something concrete and in that world—my world—but nothing happened as it typically had. Instead of walking, I just kind of arrived at a spot by thinking about moving in that direction.

This can’t be real. What is going on? I spoke out-loud, not really shocked when no one looked in my voice’s direction. Just then, our boxer dog Katie-Bee (I mostly called her K.B.) trotted through the kitchen and into the dining room. The clicks on the peach tiled floor preceded her entrance. Dad, who’d been sitting silently at the dining room table and eating, didn’t bother to look up.

Sniff, sniff, snorgle.

Get away, K.B.! I pushed her brindled snout from the hand she was snuffling against. Usually I’d welcome her devoted puppy-love, but today had just . . . exploded in my face like a firecracker in a toilet. I don’t know what had triggered it, but everything had changed for me in one afternoon.

I arced a hand in front of Momma’s face to test it, knowing she’d be mad as all get-out but figuring any punishment’d be worth it if only to confirm my existence.

But it didn’t work. Or it did, depending on your perspective. That was it. I was officially one of the Unexisting. I just about tripped over my own feet—invisible though they might be to everyone who had been anyone to me, save one faithful furry friend—as I rushed downstairs to sulk.

* * * *

It’s odd how that word, unexisting, has “sting” in it. It’s fitting, I guess. I’ve had a little while to think things over now, and that is my thought—it hurts like hell to suddenly and definitively be invisible. Zilch. Zero. Nada. Null. Nuttin’. I mean, I’d felt low before. Real low. I don’t want to make a big deal about it, but those times Momma snapped at me to “shut your damn smart-mouth” when I asked her to roll down the window to let out some smoke because my asthma was flaring . . . those were sad, but I just didn’t know it at the time, how it really felt, because it didn’t fully settle into my brain or heart. “Oh, Momma’s mad at me; what’s new,” I guess was my attitude. Then, over the next few years as I met different kids and experienced more, it started to dawn on me like a dew descending on the blades of weeds that shot up through the dirt-spots in our yard to slice defiantly at the Carolina sky: I don’t think I meant much of anything to anyone. Well, not to anyone human; K.B. loved me, that much I knew. I was quite possibly the only person who cared about me. Teachers and coaches were one thing, but they didn’t live with me every day, my good and bad sides, didn’t hug me at night or tell me stories to help the time pass. They cared about me the same way they cared about each of the other kids. I guess what I’m saying is, I felt just like any other crater face orbiting them, a small, inconsequential foreign body in their grand universe.

I’ve never told anyone this before, but I used to take Daddy’s leather belt sometimes and purposefully aim the sticky-outy part that closes it up, thorn-sharp, into the flesh of my back. When I was alone. At night. During the day. Weekends. Weekdays. No limits. Not real often, but enough that I was sometimes worried somebody in the locker room might notice. I hated swimming weather; it was the worst, because I had to make excuses as to why I was wearing a T-shirt again. Fortunately, even though there was Choctaw background in the family (so I was told), I was pale, so I usually complained that I didn’t want to get burned again. Most people I knew didn’t argue with that; hey, they were Southern people, like me, so they were generally only genteelly argumentative, if at all.

Then one time Donny commented on the marks. “Dude, what is it with your back? You been pretending to be a gladiator again?” He snickered, but I think I pulled off the scam. “Har-har. That was so funny I forgot to laugh!” He snorted. “Nah, I’ve just been practicing with the nunchakus again.” After a brief pause, he rolled his eyes as he punched me in the arm, then I figured all was right with our teen-aged world once again.

I wonder what he’d say now. If he knew that I, Sam Blinn from down the street, unexisted. Could I even communicate with him now? Only K.B. seemed to notice I was in the house. No one else appeared to have taken note that I wasn’t there anymore. I thought someone would at least be a little concerned. The next question, which clamped onto my stomach and wrenched it as if it were the neck of any mouse Grandma’s cat Pepper might find, was whether I had ever existed or if I had existed for a while then just completely  stopped existing in this time and place. Maybe I’ve somehow entered a new realm or dimension or somethin’? If only I’d read more science fiction books before this had happened, maybe I’d be able to come up with a better rationale for my . . . disappearance! I mouthed as I mulled it over from one of my favorite locations in the house–the basement where K.B. was kept–sitting on her dog bed with toys scattered around me. Her fuzzy chin rested across my legs.

I hit upon the idea, next, of checking out my bedroom for any discoveries that might come to light. K.B. click-click-clicked along behind me, and I noticed she’d left a trail of slobber while following me down earlier. I guess I hadn’t been down there as long as it felt like, because the wet dots were still pooled; without a watch but with a big problem like unexistence, time seemed to have even less meaning, if that were possible.

If I’d had a younger sister or brother—I almost did, once, but that’s another story for another time—their room would probably have been downstairs just off the basement. But since I didn’t, I had to go upstairs to my bedroom on the main floor of the little brick bungalow on Homewell Road.

It is a wreck of a room, I’ll admit, but I’m willing to show it to you since you’ve come this far with me. When I cautiously move through the open door, stepping carefully to avoid tipping over a pile of comics or tripping on the tennis shoe Momma threw at Dad yesterday or something, a surprise springs in front of me. The door is opened into what looks like a small informal library. Momma’s romance novels and other books are stacked about chest-high (my chest, not yours, if you’re an adult), three deep, around every wall of the room. The center is mostly empty except for a hastily dragged-over stack of books and milk crate, probably used as a chair and table, respectively.

Ffffft—boom! I jerk my head at the sound. It looks like the tilting tower of The_Faerie_Queene_frontispiece-Jan. 8, 2014books in the corner near the front window has fallen. As I walk over, something strange starts to unfold. One of the books seems to be moving up and down like a wave, but very slightly. The pages even ripple just a little. I mean, I’ve heard of books so good their characters appear alive—I’ve even read a few of those in my 13 ½ years on Earth—but I don’t think I ever expected one to seem to breathe or move.

I edge closer, and it stops moving.

As I stoop down and reach for the book, The Faerie Queene, which is turned upside-down and looks like the roof of a gingerbread house dreamily decorated with a myriad of animals . . .

TO BE CONTINUED

 

Fiat Lux: This Blog Begins Here

It’s four days in, and already I’m unhinging my eyes. The vision drops off, as if tumbling over a continental shelf, or else it recedes into me (the insular self, or shelf, as it were) as I angle for the just-right word. Casting the line, then re-casting, hoping I come up with a koi or perhaps at least being coy. The writer’s life. The lifer’s right. Lightning or lightning bugs, indeed, Maestro Clemens.

Fiat Lux-2aMy writing life is living one of those three-dimensional posters that we ’90s kids gazed into in Nirvanic oblivion, making the real picture finally pop out as if it had always been right there, just waiting with its bated paper breath ready to unfurl and lacerate the cheek. The mental calisthenics have begun–it’s the New Year, after all–and I am already stretching, wrestling, bending, and I hope not breaking, for the mot juste. In case you’re looking, it’s over there in the writerly ‘fridge, catty-corner [okay, kitty-corner, you damn purist!] to the bourbon, past the steadily melting bon-bons, and just adjacent to the bon mots. I scarf those like the brilliant Butterfinger bars they are.

So, I’m here owing to a self-promise that rooted from a challenge. My husband’s encouragement to write more for the public, again, got me going. Why not write your blog, he urged. Nothing’s stopping you. (But yourself, the Id intrudes. But the horror of the stark page, the writerly PFC concludes.)

And so, I write. On water (apologies to my close personal friend Johnny Keats), on webs. With dread. With passion. With consternation. With hope. With all the ‘withness’ that I can muster, or ketchup for that matter.

I have flung it out. The Wilkommen mat has shed its studs onto the grassy floor; if you are unshod, mind your feet, lest you be marked. Then again, part of that writerly equation depends on the value of you feeling something as you read. Fear, admiration, disgust, pain, puzzlement . . . valid all. My wish is that as we wend our way through this time together, if we do not become friends of a sort–each marked by each–we at least draw closer to some sort of understanding that perhaps knits us all nearer to some shared reality.  Whether or not humankind can bear very much of it, it’s all we got, baby.

And so, I finally signal fiat lux (or fiat books, as the case might be, eventually). The flip has been switched. I mean, the spit has been filched. Uh, make that the switch has been flipped. This blog is open for service, with my promise of at least a quart of fiction weekly, all copyrighted, natch. You just gotta pop the hood over here at the Wordsmithery or do that old subscribing thingamajig. My best to you all . . . all three of you, that is!