Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing

Normal – a Flash Fiction Piece

“I won’t sleep in our bed.”

“What was that, ma’am?”

I glance at the cab driver. “Nothing.”

“It’s alright, ma’am. I talk to myself plenty.”

Do what’s normal. It’s what my aunt advised for after the funeral. After. Everything will be marked as before and after now.

Sliding the clasp of my necklace back behind my tired curls, I whisper at the empty seat beside me, “We’ll talk about this at home.”

Do what’s normal.

Pay the driver.

Nod at the doorman.

Press the elevator button.

It dings its arrival. Is it always that loud? Two others board the elevator with me. Strange since the lobby echoes like a canyon yet I didn’t hear them approach.

I grow impatient once the doors close. “I won’t sleep in our bed, Ian. I can’t.”

My fellow passengers turn, chins over shoulders, then lower their eyes to the floor.

The doors open and I exit before speaking again. “The guest bed is comfortable. Don’t worry about me.” I stop, key in my fist. “Can you worry where you are?”

The breakdown starts in my knees. It will spread to my back and my arms, then my whole body will collapse to the floor. I picture myself curled on the green straw welcome mat in front of the Lancasters’ door. “No.” Digging the key into my palm, I walk.

“Fine. I’ll sleep in the damn bed. Are you happy?”

The question does me in. I shove our door – my door – open and fall down in privacy. When the shaking and the tears pass, I roll to my back; knees up, feet planted. There’s a tiny run in my tights that I pull at with my fingernail until it tears over my thigh. I stand and remove my black heels, ruined black tights, and black dress. When I drop the tights in the trash, I linger two seconds before adding the shoes and the dress.

Do what’s normal.

“That’s why I have to talk to you.” Normal is talking to Ian about the day, the news, the basketball game he’s watching that I don’t care about and the book I’m reading that he doesn’t care about.

In our bedroom – my bedroom – I pick up our wedding photo from the desk. “This won’t do.”

From the bookshelves, I dump a box of photographs on the carpet. With the pictures spread in a half moon, I survey them without seeing details. I can’t endure the details. “Where is it?” I shout a second before my eyes land on it. “Oh, Ian.”

My favorite one. I trace my fingertip over his cheek, his mouth. I ache for a kiss. I haven’t ached like this since our first years together when we still made love more nights than not.

“We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

My black bra and panties go in the trash too. The photo goes on his pillow beside me. I fall asleep flat on my back, hands resting one over the other on my stomach, like him.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Intentionality, Writing Prompt

In the Rain

I was rushing across the puddled street, cussing under my breath at my ruined shoes. She was strolling at a pace that suggested a walk in the June sunshine rather than a downpour. With my head tucked down as if there was any way to shield my face from the deluge, I didn’t see her until her bare toes came into view and my shoulder struck hers. I lifted my eyes and mumbled an apology with no intention of pausing. I did stop though, so abruptly that I nearly slipped on the wet pavement. She stopped too. She stopped and she smiled.

White sundress, soaked and clinging to her tan skin; brown hair disheveled and stuck to her cheeks and neck; she was a mess. She was beautiful. For a moment I couldn’t speak.

“You’re in a hurry.” Her smile held steady as she raised an eyebrow at me.

“Well,” I glanced at the black clouds emptying above us.

“Well?”

I stated the obvious, “It’s raining pretty hard.”

She laughed aloud, tossing her head back and laying a hand on her stomach. The sound warmed me. “It is,” she agreed, “and you’re as soaked as you can be so what’s the point in hurrying?”

I had no answer to this. My eyes fell on the peach, open toed heels she held in one hand. “You aren’t exactly dressed for this weather. Where are you coming from?” The question felt rude in this city of strangers who fill the sidewalks and trains together without so much as an effort at eye contact. My curiosity overwhelmed me.

“Maybe it’s about where I’m going to,” she answered with a wink and another mesmerizing laugh.

For a split second I wondered if she was sober but there was a clarity in her eyes that dismissed the thought.

“I just finished a job interview,” I volunteered.

“Did it go well?”

“Terrible.”

She shrugged. Raindrops bounced off her bare shoulders. I had to stop myself from begging for information – any bit she was willing to offer would do. I’d never had much courage with women. There was too much mystery about them, and this one had more than her fair share. Thus there was no explanation for my continued questions.

“Is it really about where you’re going to? Do you need to be somewhere.”

“I already am somewhere.”

“Will you stop with me for a coffee?”

She cocked her head. “I could. We could have a coffee, maybe a meal. Then a drink at a pub with a band. We could dance.”

“Yes,” I whispered, wanting all of it.

“Or you could dance with me right now.”

“Excuse me?”

“The time we’d spend doing those things, it’d only leave us with a good story. Memorable, but nothing more. I don’t know about you but for me the highlight of that story would be the dance before we parted. I’ve learned to only care about the highlights. Couldn’t we just have that dance?”

I reached my hand out, watching it with the sensation of seeing another and not myself. Her slender fingers tucked into mine.

“You should take off your shoes.”

I obeyed. The sidewalk was warm under the soles of my feet. I rolled up the cuffs of my pants then pulled my already loosened tie off of my neck and tossed it down with my socks and shoes. I untucked my sopping shirt. All this I did with one hand so I would not have to let go of her fingers with the other.

She took a step closer and her scent reached me with my next breath. Coconut and vanilla were my best guess. Her arm slid around my waist and I rested my hand on the small of her back. We danced as if accompanied by our own private string quartet. When I surprised us both by spinning her out from me then bringing her back, I held in my laughter so I could hear only hers once more.

“That was my highlight,” I declared as her laugh quieted.

She kissed my cheek and we parted. I didn’t pick up my shoes until I saw her turn the corner and disappear. Then I finished my walk home, my pace slow, my feet bare, and my face lifted, welcoming the rain.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Marriage, Motherhood, Writing Prompt

Blue

Writing Prompt: She had a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair.
Writing Time: 30 minutes

 


Over the bobbing heads of the dance floor crowd, I stare at the woman in the blue dress. She has a cocktail in her hand and confetti in her hair. Her lips are parted in laughter, the sound lost in the noise of the music. My fingers curl into fists against my stomach, mimicking the tightness of the air in my lungs.

Jealousy. It is nested in my chest.

It is not that I wish her to be otherwise. The night is better for the glow in her eyes. I do not wish it gone. I only wish to know it; to know the release of that laughter and the pleasure of my limbs swaying to the song.

“What are you thinking about?” my husband asks, his face close to my ear so I can hear him.

“Do you see her?” I point my chin in the direction of the woman. “In the blue dress.”

He cranes his neck to see. The silver hairs at his temple catch the light of the dimmed sconces behind our table on the perimeter of the dance floor. For a moment I’m transfixed by his profile, then he turns and catches my gaze. He is confused.

“Was I ever like her?” The question is spoken before I can filter it. I expect more confusion. Instead his face is transformed by a broad smile.

He leans in close again. “Even better.”

I rest my forehead against his cheek. His stubble is soft; a comforting texture on my skin.

“You still are,” I hear him add at the pause between songs.

When I close my eyes, a memory plays like a film projection. My roommate and I walking past the fountain at the center of the university campus. A small congregation of other students, strangers, with a radio blasting and an impromptu dance party coming to life. One of the guys pulling me into the group. Dancing with them until the song ends; laughing through every second.

My husband speaks now and I am startled to realize he is reliving the same memory.

“I’ll never forget watching you dance the night before we met. Sitting on the edge of that fountain, seeing you approach. You started singing along to the music. I hoped you’d stop and you did. I hoped you’d dance and you did. I hoped you’d keep laughing and you did.”

I finish the familiar commentary. “You hoped I’d sit down to rest on the edge of the fountain and I didn’t.” I require a deep breath to keep the tears behind the border of my eyelashes.

“You were transcendent.”

A sigh falls from my lips. “That girl is a stranger now.”

“Not to me.” He lifts my chin with his fingertips. “I still see her every day.”

Baby blues. Such a trite, pretty name for the darkness I dwell in presently.

“You’re still her. You are her and more.”

I tuck his words into the deepest corners of my mind, where they are needed. Then I watch the confetti scatter from the hair of the woman in the blue dress.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

The Rhythm of His Heart

Writing Prompt: I fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.
Writing Time: 15 minutes

She laid her head on his chest, letting her nerves be soothed by his heartbeat. She felt her own heart steady itself. They’d been fighting all week. They’d been fighting for months, in truth. With each burst of regrettable words and cold glares, her heart raced. It pounded against her rib cage in a combination of threat and reassurance: a threat that it could become more than she could handle – more than they could come back from; a reassurance that she had not reached, and could not imagine reaching, a point of no longer caring if they could recover.

Every couple went through times like this. That’s what she believed. Turmoil was found in every coupling. Sometimes she was tempted to think their particular brand of turmoil could be worse than others but mostly she was confident it was not. It was what their bond, forged in passion and affection and joy, prepared them for.

Here with her ear over his heart, she hoped he still believed likewise. Despite her share in the mistakes and the pain they caused him, she hoped he still believed.

As his breathing slowed into sleep, she wracked her brain for how she could convince him that she was still glad she chose him. He needed to know she was still choosing him. That was the way she’d fallen short so often in these months. Her grandmother’s words at her bridal shower all those years ago came back to her.

“Choose each other every day. Above everybody else, choose each other. Even when you’re busy or you can’t physically be near each other, make sure your hearts are still choosing each other. There are so many things and so many people to choose from. You’ll be tempted to let it slide because you already have each other, but you’ll only have each other for as long as you keep choosing each other.”

In her naive, bridal bliss, the advice seemed quaint. Here, multiple kids, jobs, houses, and sufferings later, she understood.

“I choose you,” she whispered into his chest and fell asleep to the rhythm of his heart.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

Wine and Ice Cream

Writing Prompt: Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream
Writing Time: 30 minutes
I’m wearing my favorite dress. A sleeveless, kelly green sundress with a V neckline. It’s been one of those weeks: long hours, overbooked obligations, a headache that never fully goes away. I know I’ll survive and be no worse for wear (assuming a good night’s sleep or two). Still, it’s Thursday now and I feel I haven’t taken a proper breath since Sunday. It is undoubtedly a green dress, comfortable flats, braided hair, glass of wine with no one around kind of night. I need to slow down. I need to think a few rambling thoughts. 
I walk five blocks to the best wine bar in town. It’s the best not because of its wine selection – which is only a bit above average – but its atmosphere. I order a bruschetta appetizer and a glass of chardonnay then seat myself in a wicker chair on the patio. It’s dusk and the automatic lamps around the seating area come on one at a time, a pause between each as if they are politely taking turns. Through the yellow glow, I watch a classical guitarist play. His eyes are closed as his upper body sways with the rhythm of his fingers on the strings. The background vocal is the low tide waves of the lake licking the beach across the boardwalk. There are only three other patrons dispersed around the patio.
The ice cream shop next door is crowded though, as it should be on an idyllic summer night like this. I keep one ear tuned to the guitarist and one ear to the giddy hum of the families indulging in homemade, hand dipped ice cream. The combination is unexpectedly rejuvenating.
I hear the scrape of a chair on the sidewalk somewhere behind me. I don’t think much of it until I sense someone close to me. The loss of the solitude of my spot causes me to stiffen a little in my chair. I sip my wine, ignoring whomever is outside the short fence surrounding the patio.
“I’ll pass you an ice cream cone if you’ll sneak me a glass of pinot noir.”
The nearness of the voice is startling. I continue to ignore.
“What could be better than wine and ice cream?”
I move finally, ready to dismiss this stranger, but as I turn my head and lean my shoulder toward the fence, he leans forward. In his hand is a chocolate peanut butter, double scoop waffle cone. It meets my bare shoulder and I feel the top scoop instantaneously melt into liquid on my skin. The contact with my shoulder pushes the cone down into the man’s fist. It cracks, ice cream dripping over his fingers. His expression is so stunned, so regretful, I laugh aloud despite myself.
“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry.” He pulls a stack of tiny napkins out of the pocket of his jeans and tries to mop up the chocolate mess on my arm. Meanwhile his other hand is covered in ice cream that runs off the curve of his wrist to fall to a small puddle on the sidewalk. “I did not think this through. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
I’m still quietly laughing, dumbfounded, trying not to panic over the ice cream that has reached my favorite dress. I hold my arm straight out, unsure of the best move to make. The man dashes into the ice cream shop for more napkins. He has long legs and a lean build. He’s back by my side in no time. When our eyes meet, his face turns red.
“What was that about?” I ask.
“Honestly?” He raises an eyebrow, scratches at his temple. “I had this whole scenario play out in my head. That’s not how it was supposed to go.”
I can’t help wanting to know more but I need to clean up. Excusing myself, I do what I can in the wine bar’s small restroom. My shoulder is still a tad sticky and I have counted five spots on my dress I’ll need to take care of at home. I expect to be alone again when I return to the patio and my glass of wine, but the man is still there. He has sat down in the chair he’d dragged over, only the diminutive fence and a couple feet of summer air between us.
He smiles tentatively when I sit down. “I’m Eli.”
“I’m Harper.”
We shake hands over the fence. The whole encounter is surreal and I am more and more surprised at my ease with each passing second.
I swallow the last of my chardonnay. There are two pieces of bruschetta toast left. I pass one to Eli and keep the other. “Are you going to tell me how it was supposed to go?”
He clears his throat, amusement lightening his expression. The lamps gleam in his brown eyes. “I was supposed to ask you to bring me a glass of wine. I was supposed to find out your favorite ice cream flavor and bring a dish of it for you. We were supposed to laugh over our clandestine exchange. We’d talk. We’d take a walk. I’d get your number and give you mine. Tomorrow we’d go out.”
I respond with a laugh straight from my belly. Eli has lost his embarrassment and grins at me. “Instead you smacked my shoulder with your ice cream and stained my favorite dress.”
“It’s still a great dress.”
“Are you a hopeless romantic or just a flirt?”
“I prefer romantic optimist.”
“Well, you’re something. I’ll give you that.”
He frowns when I stand up, my bill in my hand to pay at the bar inside, then he stands up as well.
“Eli, my favorite ice cream is cookies and cream. Maybe I’ll have to treat myself to some tomorrow evening.”
“You should definitely do that, Harper. Tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night.”
Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

I’ll Wait

Writing Prompt: Red Shirt
Writing Time: 30 minutes

There was a spot of something on her shirt. A speck of food, maybe. It was too small to tell unless he drew closer. Her shirt was red and the spot was gray. Justin looked away. He wasn’t about to be accused of staring at Leah’s chest because of a tiny spot of who knew what. She would tease him for weeks. He tried to pay attention. She was speaking with as much grim seriousness as her lovely voice allowed.

Leah’s voice really was lovely. Justin could not think of a better word. Like she was on the verge of singing every time she spoke. It was distracting, just like that spot on her red blouse.

He moved his eyes to the tumbler of whiskey in front of him. She still filled his peripheral view and the whiskey was only background color to her movements. Lifting her wine glass to her dry lips. Pushing her hair off her cheek. She set her drink down too hard. The wine sloshed up the curve of the glass, a single drop escaping over the top to slide down toward the stem.

“Don’t you have any thoughts at all, Justin?”

So many.

He didn’t admit that. “When have you ever taken my advice?” He said it with a smile that reached neither his eyes nor his tone.

“I’m sure it happened once.”

She smiled now. That smile would be the end of him someday. Once it lit her face, he felt desperate to do anything, say anything, to stop it from disappearing.

“You can’t leave.”

Her mouth abandoned the smile to form a small O of surprise. Justin regretted it instantly. She’d want an explanation.

“It’s his dream job. I can’t ask him to stay.” Leah took another sip of wine.

“I didn’t say you should ask him to stay.” What was he doing? If the tumbler was empty he might have something to blame. His hand shook when he lifted his still full drink so he set it back down and pressed his fist into the polished wood of the bar.

“Justin.”

Her almost-singing voice was sad. Or scared. Justin wasn’t sure which but he could not meet her eyes after she said his name that way. It sounded like a rejection wrapped up in a mere six letters, two syllables.

“Are you hungry? Let’s order some food.”

“Justin.”

He shook his head. “I’m hungry.”

“Me too,” she whispered as she placed her finger tips under his chin to move his face in her direction. They both jumped when her phone rang. She dropped her hand.

“Damn it.” He reached his arm around her waist and pulled her to him, more roughly than he intended. She slipped off her barstool and stood, leaning her hip against his knee. Every coherent thought left his head as their lips met. Then one single reality reached him: she was kissing him back. Her hand was on the back of his head. Her smooth skin was warm against his end of day stubble. Justin started to stand as well when she broke the kiss.

Leah stayed in the curve of his arm, her eyes still closed. He held his breath. She laid her palms on his chest and he knew she could feel his heart pounding through his shirt.

“How long have you wanted to do that?”

He laughed quietly, placing a light kiss on her forehead. When she finally opened her eyes, he replied, “May 17, 2002.”

Confusion wrinkled her forehead for a moment then she smiled too. “The end of year party in your dorm?”

“The day we met.”

“15 years, practically.”

Her phone rang again and she stepped toward it. He groaned a little for the loss of her nearness.

“I have to take this.” Leah didn’t meet his eyes when she said it. She was chewing her lip the way he knew so well; the way she did when there was a decision to be made.

“I’ll wait.”

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Writing Prompt

Hell of a Way to Die

Writing Prompt: It was a hell of a way to die.
Writing Time: 30 minutes (Longer than usual! We’ll see where this takes us.)

Canoe. River. Rocks. Cougars.

It was a hell of a way to die. At least it would make an interesting story. I curled myself deeper into the crevice of the cliff and imagined the teenagers that would hike out here a year from now.

“This is where that girl got mauled by a pair of cougars.”

“Yeah, they found her canoe half a mile down the river, all torn up.”

They’d stand on the ledge eight feet above where I crouched now, enjoying the horror of it all.

I normally turn around before reaching this section of the river. Today, I wanted to keep going. It’s those damn leaves and the way Autumn makes me feel. Oranges, reds, yellows, and those stalwart evergreens living up to their name; I simply had to paddle farther.

A regrettable whim.

When I hit the rocks, the wood of the canoe split beside my left foot. Split is a gentler word than what really happened. Those rocks were not the rounded boulders smoothed by the current that I have encountered before. They were dagger sharp offshoots of the cliff, typically not immersed but the river is high this week.

The water invading the canoe took away any control I still had, tossing the boat into the next set of rocks then flipping me out of my seat. My forearm was sliced by an edge of one rock but my real concern was the undercurrent. A river this high, I knew that undercurrent was stronger than any resistance I’d be able to muster after more than a few minutes of struggle. I wrapped myself around one of those blades of stone like my dearest possession rather than the source of my demise.

From there it was a slippery, bruising scramble toward the cliff. I found enough footholds to reach this crevice, a cave of sorts, and rested. The sun can’t reach me here; the brisk October chill, so lovely as I paddled, had me shaking as I watched the rivulets of water running from my boots and clothing over the side of the cliff. My arm was throbbing but not bleeding much.

When I thought I could manage it, I set my mind on making it to the top of the cliff. It was mid morning; at least eight hours til sunset so light wasn’t a worry. Surely I’d find my way to a road or a house before then. All I had to do was make it up there and start moving. Move to keep warm. Move to find my way out.

I stuck my head out from under the ledge. Eight feet or so; doable. The stone face was dry up here, which was helpful. I felt around for a place to grip, pulled my body out of the cave, and gritted my teeth as I used my injured arm to continue the movement. One step at a time, carefully, determinedly, I ascended to the top. Such relief when one hand then the other landed on dry grass and cold dirt! Every muscle in my upper body strained to lift. When my face was met with open air instead of the gray striations of stone, I exhaled in a giddy shout.

That’s when I saw the cougars.

They both were crouched, chests to the ground, wide jaws suspended above the grass. One was still, glaring, eyes locked on mine. The other was moving toward me by inches at a time. My shout became a split second scream then silent. I could hear them breathing that throaty purr of big cats. I climbed back down to my cave.