A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Diorama

D: Diorama

pexels-photo-421160Harold’s run stalled outside a brick bungalow on Cedar Street. The skyline was rimmed pink, with everything above still ink and stars. Daily, before dawn, Harold ran one and a half miles at an eleven-minutes-per-mile pace. Every single morning, except Sundays, and he did not stop for anything mid-run. Never.

“You’re seventy-two. It’s okay to slow down,” Harold’s doctor said at his most recent check-up. “Maybe mix it up with walking or swimming, something a bit easier on the joints.”

Harold lied when he told the doctor he’d consider it.

He checked the tracker on his wrist. The device was a gift from his son. Harold had scoffed at learning its features and tricks, or even growing comfortable with its bulk around his wrist. He was loath to admit to anyone how much he appreciated it now, with its details and data and graphs, its uncanny ability to measure the value of his daily movements.

Eight-tenths of a mile to go.

So, why had he stopped? Why did he stand, feet planted on the damp sidewalk instead of striking it at his self-regulated pace? He stood still because he was traveling through time, and travel like that tends to take a person’s breath away.

Inside the house, on display through a wide picture window, was a diorama of the past. A living room: white walls, gray sofa, black recliner, and two lamps glowing from each of the end tables framing the sofa. Family photos in frames. A book on the arm of the recliner.

A woman and a child.

Harold’s pulse throbbed. He felt it in his chest, in his neck.

“My girls,” he whispered.

The woman – slim, average height, pixie-cut chestnut hair – stood in the center of the room, her arms wrapped securely around the child lying against her, chest to chest. Her head was bowed with her cheek resting on the crown of her daughter’s blonde head. Her eyes were closed.

The child’s face was turned away from the window, tucked into the curve of her mother’s neck. She looked to be two, perhaps, clothed in plush, yellow pajamas. One little hand held the ears of a well-loved, stuffed bunny, and the other hand rested on her mother’s shoulder.

All was still. A three-dimensional snapshot of thirty years ago.

Harold reached for the tree branch above his shoulder. The coarse bark beneath his palm broke the spell over his senses. He pulled his eyes away from the house, away from the intimacy of the moment between mother and child, and forced himself to move.

At the end of the block, where Harold typically turned left to return home, he turned right. Then he turned right again, then left. He jogged into the cemetery, along the gravel paths to a headstone beneath a birch tree. There, he kneeled.

Harold waited for his heartbeat to slow. He laid his hands in the dewy grass and squinted at the sun mounting the treetops.

“I saw you today, Rosie.” He cleared his throat. “I used to see you everywhere. Everywhere. But it hasn’t been like that in a while. It was you and Sadie, when she was just a little thing. It was our living room. I mean, I know it wasn’t. I know it wasn’t you, or Sadie, or our home. For a moment though, it was, and it was the happiest and the saddest I’ve been in a while.”

He leaned forward on his knees, pressing his palms into the cold, solid stone. He rubbed the ridges of her name with his thumb and sighed.

“It was wonderful to see you.”

Harold stood, and ran home.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

Dignity, Family, Love, Pro Life, Worthy

More Than We Think We Are

I sat beside my sister at the funeral of our dear friend’s mother. Our eyes fell on my sister’s young daughter. She sat contentedly in the lap of her grandmother, beside us in the same church pew.

“She’s so beautiful,” my sister remarked, her eyes bright as she watched her daughter.
“She really is,” I said, then voiced the next thought that filled my head, “People are always saying how beautiful our daughters are, and how they look exactly like us. Do you ever think that maybe we were more beautiful than we realized when we were younger?”

My sister reached over and squeezed my hand, voicing no response. She didn’t need to reply. I knew. I knew the struggles she and I had navigated over the years. I knew what it took to eventually believe ourselves beautiful.

The funeral began with an old, familiar hymn, but the thought remained with me. As the priest blessed the family and friends filling the rows in the church, I couldn’t shake the question: are we more beautiful than we realize?

I’d encountered a lot of beauty in the past week. Easily overlooked beauty. Misconstrued beauty.

It was there to see in the face and hands of my best friend. Exhausted, no makeup, eyes not long dry from the most recent of many tears, she greeted me with a long hug when I arrived at the hospital where she and her family kept vigil with her dying mother. We sat at her mother’s bedside, talking in reserved voices that rose with emotion then quieted as her mother’s ragged breathing fluctuated. My, she was beautiful. The love in her eyes. The gentleness in her fingers as they grazed the blankets of the bed in front of her. The aching tenderness in her glances at her mom. My friend had spent years caring for her mother. Years of tending to her needs, housing her, shuttling her to appointments, encouraging her, upholding her dignity. Loving her.

Then there was her mother, Connie, who lied dying beside us. If my friend hadn’t let me into the room, I would not have known I was in the right place. She was unrecognizable, seemingly a shell of her former, spirited self. Seemingly. Except, if I kept my wits about me, I could see that she was still her whole self. She was still Connie, who battled cancer for all these years, never willing to give up. Through treatments and sickness and depression, through remissions and reoccurrences, she’d plodded onward. Yet, here she was. She wasn’t a woman defeated. She was a woman ready. She was a woman ready to leave. She’d done her work and fought her battles. Her readiness was as beautiful as it was heartbreaking.

So there I sat in the church pew, wondering over how many different ways we miss the beauty. Wondering why we can’t see it.

I want to see it. I want my spouse to see it. I want my children to see it. I want you to see it. This life, it’s so much more beautiful than we think. Its beauty is only surpassed by the people, by us. We are more, much more beautiful than we think we are.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Catharsis

C: Catharsis

I walk two blocks west from my hotel and spot the wooden sign for The Griffin. When I asked the front desk attendant for a recommendation of both the best Reuben sandwich and the best whiskey old fashioned, this was his immediate answer.
As I push open the door, I loosen my tie and undo the top button of my white oxford shirt. I scan the

room. It’s large. Dark, polished wood, red accents, and brass hardware under dim, golden light create a weighty ambiance. There are about a dozen patrons inside, each silent or conversing in their lowest voices. The mahogany bar runs the full width of the front of the room. I pick a stool near no one and order my first round from an indifferent bartender. He keeps his eyes on a muted flat screen television on the adjacent wall. It’s a re-broadcast of this afternoon’s Dodgers-Giants game. While I sip my drink and peruse the kitchen’s menu, a man sits on the stool to my left.

The bartender immediately hands him a Budweiser without a word from either of them. He’s about my age, I discern from a sideways glance. His hands look older. Their calluses and knobby knuckles remind me of my father’s hands. My father was a union man in an iron foundry for forty-two years. I wonder briefly what this man does for a living, but the curiosity passes. There’s only one thing that occupies my mind tonight. One person.
My food order taken, the bartender brings me a second cocktail. I turn the glass in my hand. The slick condensation transfers from the glass to my fingers.
“Ricky?”
My neighbor on the next stool is peering at me with bloodshot eyes.
“Ricky! What’s it been?” he slurs. “A few years, I’d say. How you been, man?”
“I’m not Ricky, sir.”
His raspy laugh turns into a cough. “What are you going on about, Ricky? I’d know you anywhere.”
“My name is David. I’m not Ricky.”
“Aw, don’t be like that, man. It’s good to see you.” He swats my shoulder and almost slips off his stool.
I decide to ignore him. My brain returns to the same questions plaguing me since I flew to this city on Monday. It’s Thursday now. How’s it going to be when I get home? More of this? What do I want it to be like when I get home? That last question is the one I know I need to answer.
“You heard what happened, I’ll bet.” The man is teetering on that thin line between thoroughly intoxicated and sloppy drunk.
I stare into my glass after taking another swig.
“Yeah, of course you heard what happened to my Jenny.”
He doesn’t seem to care that I’m not responding. I look toward the bartender for aid but his eyes are on the already played ballgame.
“Can I confess the truth?” The man leans in as if he’s whispering, though he is not. “Sure, sure, I can. You’re an old friend. You won’t tell.”
I shake my head, wishing I’d stayed in and order overpriced room service.
“I think I killed her.”
My fingers stop tracing the rim of my glass. I turn my head a little and meet his eyes. They’re wide and bleary. He waits and I find my voice. “Listen, sir. I’m not Ricky. Maybe you need to have a water, or a soda, and sober up a little.”
 It’s as if I didn’t even speak. “Geez, it feels good to admit that. Really good. I mean, don’t call the cops or nothing. I didn’t kill her.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“But still, I think I killed her.”
He goes silent for more than a minute and I hope it’s over. It’s not.
The man downs the last of his beer. “She only took drives like that when I made her mad. Fast. Old roads. Curves and hills.” His voice fades out. There are fat tears on his cheeks. I doubt he even knows they’re there. “‘You’ll kill yourself, driving like that, woman!’ That’s what I used to tell her. ‘Good,’ she’d say. ‘I have a way to do it then when you make me want to.’”
I shudder at the darkness of this exchange he had, more than once, with Jenny, whom I assume was his wife. It sounds outrageous. Even as I think this, I am flashing back to the bitter words that filled the air of our living room Sunday night, and the cold indifference Josie and I maintained on Monday morning until I left for the airport. No calls, no texts. None, this whole week, and tomorrow I fly home.
“I made her so mad that night. Madder than I’d ever seen.” He pounds on the bar and the bartender looks our way. “Another, ya’ lazy barkeep!” he chortles.
The bartender shakes his head. “No can do, McNeil. I already called your cab. I warned you that bottle was your last for tonight.”
McNeil scowls. Then his expression clears and his focus is back on me. “Do you think she meant to do it, Ricky?”
My mouth is dry. My drink is empty.
“Do you think she meant to hit that tree? Maybe, man, maybe. Either way, it’s on me. I knew what I was doing to her. I knew. I killed her.”
“Cab’s here,” the bartender interrupts.
“I could’ve stopped her, Ricky. I could’ve made it good.”
He stands and wobbles in his steel-toed boots. I see the grief, the self-loathing, in the lines of his face and the drop of his broad shoulders. He’s a large, muscular man, but he walks like a weaker, older version of himself.
After I watch him go, I rest my elbows on the bar and my head in my hands. Josie’s face fills my vision. The bartender slides my plate in front of me, but I stand up and mumble that I’ll be back in a minute. I reach for the phone in my pocket. “I have to call my wife.”

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

A to Z, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Writing Prompt

A to Z Flash Fiction: Bisou (Kiss)

B: Bisou (Fr: Kiss)
Photo Prompt: The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville, by Robert Doisneau

I sit at my usual table by the sidewalk, facing the Hotel De Ville. I drink my usual coffee, and take slowly paced bites of my usual croissant. People pass in their usual way, silent beside the street filled with noisy motor cars. All is as usual.

Then, it is not.

A couple appears. They are young, considerably younger than I. Pretty, but still blending with the stream of pedestrians. In front of the table beside mine, he stops. His arm is around her waist, so she stops too. He moves his arm to her shoulders, drawing her into his side as he dips his head toward her. Her graceful neck stretches, turns to match him. His lips meet hers, urgent and sincere. It is beautiful.

“The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville” by Robert Doisneau, 1950

It all happens in a matter of five seconds, maybe fewer. The kiss lasts as long, then his arm slides back to her waist and they walk on. Phantom smiles on their lips; a blush upon her cheekbones; and with no notice of the other persons in the flow that they rejoin on the sidewalk, they are gone.

My hand trembles around the porcelain coffee cup. The only thought in my mind slips through my lips in a whisper, “How long is it since I’ve been kissed like that? Have I ever?”

A memory flashes like a film reel. Yes, I have.

It is night, more than ten years ago. We walk beside the Seine. There is space between us, and then there is not. He takes my hand, pulls me in, and kisses me for the first time – the only time – for he is my friend and nothing more. His kiss is earnest. I feel his fingers tighten with mine.

I hear his voice in my head and I close my eyes to listen.

“I needed to do that,” he says.

But I am too stunned to speak.

“Should I apologize?”

“No,” I manage.

My fingertips rest on my lips, although I do not remember lifting my hand there. Every emotion, every sensation, returns to me, in the aftermath of those strangers’ kiss. How had I forgotten?

No, I did not forget, but I had not remembered either.

I lift my coffee for a drink, my hands no longer shaking. A smile teases at my lips. I reckon it is a match for the smile the woman on the sidewalk wore after being kissed like that, after being kissed like I have been before.

*****
Let’s get back to basics, my friends. Specifically, the alphabet. I’ll be writing a series of flash fiction pieces off of one word prompts, from A to Z. Enjoy! And if a word comes to mind for any upcoming letter, please make your suggestion and I’ll consider it for a prompt.

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Love, Marriage, Writing Prompt

Take Out

She’d overcooked the pasta. It was pitched in the trash. The empty kettle landed in the sink with an echoing clatter. She lifted herself with some difficulty onto the countertop, and sat. The burner on the stove still glowed red as fire. Of course she’d forgotten to turn it off. Of course.

“Andrea?”  Leo’s voice floated toward her from the hallway.

Typically, she turned on the light over the front steps before he came home so he could unlock the door without fumbling in the dark. Of course she’d forgotten that too.

“I’m here.”

Leo draped his suit jacket over a dining chair and came to stand before her. He rested his hands on her knees. She lightly bounced her heels off the cupboard below her. He smiled, leaned in for a kiss.

“I ruined dinner.”

She watched his nose wrinkle, then he covered the last two inches between them, claiming his kiss.

“I don’t care,” he whispered.

“I can’t focus today. The whole day,” she said emphatically.

“We’ll order take out.”

He went for a second kiss but she leaned past his face to lay her cheek on his shoulder. She inhaled his scent. Leo wrapped his arms around her waist, lifting her from the countertop. She draped her arms around his neck and pressed her knees against his hips. His muscles tightened to hold her steady while he walked to the sofa. When he laid her down there, she saw a wet circle on his shoulder. She hadn’t realized she was crying.

“I left the stove on.”

He returned to the kitchen, then back to the sofa a moment later. “You rest. I’ll order our food.”

Andrea closed her eyes. The resulting darkness was speckled with prismatic lights; beautiful lights she wished she could stop seeing. “I don’t know if I can do this,” she whispered. Opening one eye, she focused on the framed snapshot of her and Leo hiking Mount Moriah. “I have to do this.”

Leo was on the phone, muffled through the walls between here and their bedroom. He’d be changing into jeans and a t-shirt. She remembered the warmth of his chest against hers as he’d carried her from the kitchen; the steadfast beating of his heart. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. Ba-boom. She envied it. Her heart raced and stuttered more every week.

“It’s the medication,” the doctor always answered with a wave of his hand. The irregular heartbeat; the shaking hands; the pain in her legs; the lights in her vision; the inability to focus her mind; everything had one of two answers: “It’s the medication. It’s the tumor.”

“Are you resting?” Leo called from the bedroom.

“Mmmhmm,” she responded, far too quiet for him to hear.

She felt sleep approaching. Each night she welcomed it with a vague thought that it might be perfectly okay if she did not wake up. Come morning, when her eyes opened and she saw Leo on the pillow beside her, she felt overwhelming relief that it had not been her last day. Would that morning sentiment eventually dissipate? This was the question she pondered as she drifted out.

When Andrea woke, moonlight filled the gap in the curtains. It was a spotlight on Leo, slumbering in the leather easy chair beside the sofa. His neck would be sore from the angle of his surrender to sleep. His plate and fork were on the coffee table, empty but for a few bits of rice. A clean fork and knife
were on the table in front of Andrea. Their arrangement suggested a plate had resided between them, until it’d become obvious she wouldn’t be roused from her sleep. She knew she’d find it carefully wrapped and stowed in the refrigerator.

Propped against her fork stood a small rectangle of paper with red lettering: the slip from inside Leo’s fortune cookie. Andrea picked it up. She stood, slowly, and moved to the shaft of moonlight to see the words he’d wanted her to read.

“A true companion journeys to the same destination, and will carry you when your feet will not.”

Andrea clutched the paper in her fist. With a kiss to his forehead, she woke Leo. He stood, lifted her in his arms, and carried her to their bed. She rested her ear on his chest, seeking that reliable rhythm from inside of him. She rubbed her thumb against the soft stubble on his jaw, and prayed she’d wake up again tomorrow.

Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Love, Marriage

The Paper in My Purse

There’s this paper that I keep folded up and tucked away in my purse. It is a bit of treasure that I bring with me practically everywhere. I think I’ve gone through five purses in the last seven years, and that paper has found its place in each one. Today, I unfolded it for the first time in perhaps a year and read each beautiful word printed upon it.

The black ink is still clear on the paper, but the yellowing of its edges has begun. The creases are tearing. It felt a bit delicate in my fingers today. 

The lines that fill this page were written by my husband, long before he was my husband. I still remember my awe when he sent me the first two stanzas, a mere two weeks after our first date. If I’ve ever come close to swooning, that was the moment. Here I was, lingering in the dawn of our coupledom, wading in and testing the waters. Then, he offers this collection of words born in his heart and pulls me under.

Love requires taking chances. It requires wading into deeper waters and losing sight of your former shore. My husband more than anyone else has taught me this. Love also, for me, requires words. Words of beauty and truth. Every time I look at this worn page in the pocket of my purse, I’m thankful my husband understood that from the start.

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.