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.)

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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:

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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

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