Off to Krista’s Game!

(fiction)

“C’mon!” I yelled as I peeked my head into the kitchen doorway. “Time to go.” The only response I heard was the sound of shuffling as my two sisters, my brother, and my parents finished getting ready.

I closed the kitchen door and trudged across the garage to our van. “They’re gonna make me late, again,” I mumbled to myself. I slid the door to the van open hard and it shut again. “Dumb door.” I slid the door open again and climbed into the very back seat. I hit my right fist into my mitt and the hits became increasingly harder as I waited.

“C’mon,” I mumbled to the empty car, “I know my game doesn’t start for another hour, but I want to get there and practice hitting with my coach.”

I heard the kitchen door shut and quickly looked across the garage. But my younger brother, Trey, walked across the garage by himself.

“Hi Krista,” he said in his normal cheerful tone as he slid the van door open.

“Hi Trey,” I growled. “Anybody else comin’?”

“Just me, Nic’s still getting ready,” he climbed into the van and sat in the middle seat in front of me.

I rolled my eyes. It’s just my game, I thought, who’s she planning on seeing?

“Are you gonna hit the ball today?” Trey asked as he fastened his seat belt.

I glared at the back of his head. “What do you think?”

“Well, you don’t always swing the bat.”

“It’s hard for me to tell what’s in my strike zone,” I said defending myself. “Coach Jerry says it’s because my zone is smaller than others.” I thought I had overheard my coach mention something like that to someone.   “So, sometimes it’s better to take my chances and try and walk.” I added my own conclusion.

“It’s because you’re puny, huh?”

“You wanna say that again?”

“What’s wrong with puny? It means small.”

“It means weak, Trey. I can still take you down, you know.” It was true, I could still pin him when we wrestled. The trouble was, he was now an inch taller than me and outweighed me by a few pounds.

“I know, “ he replied but then mumbled, “but sometimes I win.”

The kitchen door closed again and I looked over to see the rest of my family heading

 

toward the van.

“Finally,” I said.

Mom and dad climbed in the front seats, Jordyn sat next to Trey, and Nicole climbed in back with me.

“Did you get your hair just right?” I asked as sarcastically as I could.

“Oh,” she said innocently, “were you waiting for me?”

Good thing you’re not Trey or Jo, I thought as I looked out the window, because you would be in a headlock right now.

Dad pulled the van out of the garage. “Where are we going again?” He asked.

“Dad,” I said making it sound like two syllables.

“Oh yeah,” he said, “we’re off to Krista’s Game.”

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Independence Day

Independence Day part I

Independence Day part II

We did the best we could to make life normal after that day. Whatever that normal is. I now believe ‘normal’ is our modern El Dorado. People drive themselves crazy seeking after it. But grandma, Thomas and I did our best.   For different reasons, we didn’t talk about mama and papa much. We each held a secret. Perhaps we should have just shared what we knew with each other and let the healing and forgiveness begin. But we didn’t. We each held onto our secret as if it was our lifeline. Why does hindsight have to be so much clearer than foresight?

In those four years, I gave up being a tomboy and became interested in boys in a different way. And boys became interested in me. At least one did. One just like papa. I followed in mama’s footsteps and married before I finished school. Just like mama, I had to plan an escape years later. Unlike mama though, I succeeded.

Thomas started to run. He joined track in school and spent hours running in the hills surrounding grandma’s house. I asked him one time why he ran so much. He shrugged it off and replied, “I have nothing better to do.” To this day I don’t know if he was trying to run to something or run away from something. But his running allowed him to receive a scholarship and he was able to go to school where he became top in his class.

Mama always knew he was destined for better things than this town had to offer. That’s one reason she was so insistent on calling him Thomas instead of shortening it to Tommy. She named him an old man’s name and she wanted him to live up to it. Most people didn’t understand and would call him Tommy. But I agreed with mama. He had been born with an old man’s soul and Thomas seemed to fit him much better.

On July 3rd that year we walked home from town. Grandma was getting older and finding it harder to make the trip to town as often. Besides, it gave me a chance to visit my boyfriend and it gave Thomas a chance to be in town with other people. He thrived on social situations and loved to observe interactions between people. Rarely did he join in, he just liked to watch.

As soon as we turned onto the long drive to walk up to the house we saw a beat up old truck parked by the old barn. “Grandma has company?” it came out as a question.

“Looks like it,” Thomas replied and looked at me. “Who would be coming to visit grandma?”

I shrugged my shoulders and we quickened our pace to find out.

As soon as we approached the house a man in overalls stepped onto the porch.

“Papa?” I stopped in my tracks.

He looked at me then started to laugh. “No, I’m your Uncle Levi, remember?”

I didn’t but I nodded my head slowly anyway.

“Hello Tara,” he smiled and revealed his crooked, rotting teeth. “Hello Tommy.”

Thomas stepped back. “I go by Thomas.” Most people in town called him Tommy. I never heard him correct anyone before.

Uncle Levi licked his lips. “You sound like your mama,” he said and didn’t try to hide the contempt in his voice.

“Your Uncle Levi has come to spend time with you,” Grandma interrupted and stepped onto the porch behind him while wiping her hands on her apron. She tried to make her voice sound hopeful which gave it an unnatural tone and she did not make eye contact with either of us.

“How about us going fishing Saturday?” Uncle Levi asked Thomas.

Thomas looked at grandma then at me. He wanted a savior and neither of us could offer him one.

“You need a male influence in your life, Tommy,” Uncle Levi caught himself and lowered his voice in a mocking tone, “Thomas.”

Thomas knew there was no escape hatch for him. “Fine,” he said looking down at the ground.

For a year, Uncle Levi became part of our lives. At least one Saturday a month he sauntered into town and took Thomas fishing or some other manly excursion. The next day he’d sleep for most of the time then wake up in time to enjoy Sunday dinner with us. Then he’d disappear. I have no idea where he went or what he did when he wasn’t with us. But he made contact with us at least once a month.   It was probably the most reliable thing he ever did in his life.

A couple of times I caught him leering at me. Thankfully, grandma never let us be alone in a room together. She always made sure she was in there.   But she couldn’t do the same for Thomas and I think that year aged her quicker than normal.

The summer before I started my senior year in high school, I had plans to spend the 4th of July with my boyfriend. “Your uncle wants to take you both tonight,” grandma told us that morning while we ate breakfast.

“What for?” I asked putting my breakfast dishes in the sink.

Grandma looked down, her voice became shaky, “He wants to ask you…” Quickly she walked out of the room. “I better start on those clothes.”

My eyebrows raised. “What’s with her?”

Thomas was too busy studying his breakfast to hear me. “I’m going running.” He said standing up and putting his dishes in the sink.

“But you haven’t eaten your breakfast,” I said.

“Not hungry,” he replied and bounded out the door.

He didn’t return until late that afternoon. I was in the barn looking for camping gear. We called it the barn but it was really an oversized shed that was slowly falling apart. It was drafty and I had to use a kerosene lamp to see inside.

“Hi,” Thomas said causing me to jump.

“Oh, why are you so quiet?” I complained. “You’re going to give me a heart attack one of these days.”

He shrugged his shoulders and hopped onto an old counter. The whole building seemed to lean a bit with his weight.

“Be careful,” I said looking around. “I do not want this building to fall in on me. Especially with this lamp burning.”

“What are you even doing in here?” he asked smiling.

“Looking for camping gear. Uncle Levi wants to take us camping,” I rolled my eyes.

He did not move and his eyes became big. “What?”

“He wants to take us camping. Even I have to go this time. I don’t know why. I’m seventeen. I think I’m old enough to have some say in the matter.”

Thomas looked down at his feet. “I’m not going,” he said defiantly.

“You like to camp,” I said. “You’ve been going all year with him.”

He shook his head and swallowed hard.

“I know he is a boor and I don’t like to spend time with him but I thought you two got along alright,” I studied Thomas.

He shook his head again and clenched the counter with his hands until they turned white. “He’s going to make us go live with him.”

“What?” I asked.

“That’s what this is about, this trip. I heard grandma and him talking the other day,” he jumped off the counter and looked like he was in flight mode. “I am not going to live with that man,” his face softened. “I can’t.”

“What have you done on your outings?” I asked even though I already knew. I suppose I always knew I just didn’t want to think about it.

He looked away and my suspicions were confirmed.

“You wait here,” I said.

He grabbed my arm. “You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

“I’ll tell him you’re sick and I’ll think of something for me. We’ll stay home this weekend. If we have time to talk to grandma about this she can help,” after all, she tried to help us before.

I walked out of the barn and headed to the house. My mind raced with possible excuses. Before I turned the corner I stopped when I heard voices. Uncle Levi and grandma were on the porch talking.

“He needs a man’s influence, ma,” he slurred loudly.

“They’re both happy here,” grandma pleaded.

“The decision is final. You have no say in this matter. It’s your fault and that woman’s,” he said with as much contempt as he could muster, “that boy is so soft.   He’s an embarrassment to this family.” I still felt anger toward mama, but I didn’t like the way he referred to her with so much disdain.

“But I’m getting old. I need their help,” I could tell she was grasping at straws trying anything.

“He is going to learn to be a man,” his voice boomed and I hoped Thomas couldn’t hear any of this.

“And what about her?” grandma asked. I forgot I was part of this deal. “We’ll need someone to do the woman chores. Cooking, cleaning,” his voice softened just a little.

A maid? He wanted me to be his maid.

“Women need to learn their place, too. Why is she wasting time in school anyway?”

“No, Levi,” I had never heard grandma sound so vulnerable before. “Please, don’t do this.”

Uncle Levi lost his patience. I heard his heavy steps stomp. “I don’t care what you think, woman.” His voice was filled with venom and my whole body tightened.

“Levi, please,” grandma sounded like a little girl.

Then I heard that familiar sound. The same sound Thomas and I heard over and over again. I knew what was happening. Even though I wanted to help grandma I knew I couldn’t at the moment. But I could still help Thomas.

I ran back to the barn and went straight for grandpa’s old gun cabinet. I pulled out the first rifle and forced my shaking hands to stuff a bullet into it.

Thomas looked at me wide eyed.

I cocked the gun then turned to him. “Run.”

He stood there.

I grabbed his arm and led him to the door. “Run and don’t turn back. Go on.”

He shook his head.

“RUN!” I commanded. “Get out of here, now!”

Finally, he backed up and started running toward the hills.

I took a deep breath and nodded. Outside offered no protection for me as I looked around. I decided my best bet would be to wait in the barn. My hands were sweaty but I clenched that rifle like it was my salvation. I backed up to the far wall and waited. He’d come looking and I’d be waiting.

The soft glow of the lamp illuminated just enough of the building for me to see.

It felt like forever before I heard him call out our names.

“In here,” I answered trying to make sure my voice didn’t sound as insecure as I felt.

He opened the door and his eyes scanned the building quickly. I could tell it took a moment for him to adjust to the dim light. “There you are,” he said laughing and stopped short when he noticed the gun. “What is this?”

“Uncle Levi,” I said while holding the gun pointed at him. “I think it’s best you leave.”

He opened the door all the way and I could only see his silhouette. “Girl, I don’t have time for this.”

“Please leave. Leave us alone. Don’t come back,” I said as evenly as possible.

He laughed again. But it was an irritated laugh and I knew I was at the point of no return. He started walking toward me. “You gonna shoot me?” he asked. “Your own kin?”

“Please,” I begged. “Please just leave.”

“No, I’m not gonna leave. And you’re not gonna shoot,” he licked his dry lips and took another step closer. “You are gonna put the gun down and we are gonna go home where you will learn some manners.”

“Please,” I couldn’t help it the tears started to come.

He laughed again and relaxed. Another step closer.

I panicked and squeezed the trigger. The shock of the gun pushed me back into the wall and I hit my head. The next thing I remember, grandma was helping me up and the barn was on fire.

She helped me out of the building to safety. We sat on the ground and watched the building burn with Uncle Levi inside.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You shot your Uncle Levi,” she said. “But don’t you give it a second thought. It was self-defense. You did what you had to do. You protected yourself and your brother.”

“I shot him?” I asked. I remembered the gun going off but didn’t see if I hit him or not.

“You did. You did what you had to do.” She kept repeating it as if to console me.

“What about the fire?” I asked.

“Well, he must have knocked the lamp down when he fell.”

I admit it. I was on the edge of my seat as Tara finished her story. I licked my lips. “So, you killed your Uncle Levi?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if admitting to murder would have an effect on her Citizen of the Year Award. As far as I knew, there had been no precedent in the matter. She was just supposed to be some boring, nice old lady.

“Well,” she said slowly.   I could tell this story was not finished yet. “That is what went into the official police record. But,” she looked at my tape recorder, “if you want to go off the record, I’ll tell you what really happened.”

My eyes followed hers to the tape recorder and I leaned over and turned it off. I set my pen and paper down and just listened.

“I need to back up a little,” she said.

I stood there with gun in hand begging him to just leave. He didn’t listen and kept coming closer and closer. I panicked and squeezed the trigger. The bullet missed him completely and hit the lantern.

The truth is, the kickback did cause me to hit my head and I was knocked unconscious for a moment. When I came to, the barn was on fire and I was lying in a pool of blood.

I sat up quickly and looked at the blood on my hands and felt my body. It wasn’t mine. I looked over and Uncle Levi lay contorted on the ground.

“C’mon,” I heard grandma’s voice in the smoke. Quickly I followed.

We stood there watching the barn burn down with Uncle Levi inside.

“He was going to hurt you,” she said with a weak voice.   “I did what I had to do,” she threw a blunt metal pipe she had been clutching into the fire.

“Grandma?” I asked.

“You’re safe now,” she mumbled.

That day added about twenty years onto grandma and she never quite recovered. None of us did, really.

I dropped out of school around Christmas time to marry my boyfriend. It is one of my biggest regrets mainly because grandma sacrificed everything to keep us safe and I jumped right back into danger.   I left my husband in the middle of the night the day after I turned 29. Luckily, we didn’t have any children.  Of course, he always blamed me for the fact we didn’t have kids but I didn’t have any trouble with my next two husbands.  At any rate, I didn’t have the extra baggage when I fled like mama did.

Thomas received a scholarship and went to school. He was named one of the “Brightest and Best” when he graduated from college. But he couldn’t escape the vices of this family. He was dragged into the bottle just like papa and lost everything by the time he turned thirty. A week before his 32nd birthday I buried him in the town’s cemetery. To his credit, he never started a family. He said he didn’t trust himself and he wanted the cycle to end with him.

Grandma died twelve years after this incident. I was living with her then. She spent a lot of time staring out the window lost in thought. The last few years of her life she indulged in many delusions that involved the men in her life chasing after her.

Tara finished her narrative and sat back in her seat. A semblance of peace rested on her.

“So,” I said collecting my thoughts, “your grandma killed your Uncle Levi with the pipe?”

“Actually, we both killed him in the fire. We could hear him scream when he came to. But, uh, that’s off the record.”

I didn’t know what to say. “Well, uh,” I said nervously. “I think I have enough for the article in the paper. Congratulations on your award.” There was no way I was going to use any of this.

We walked to the door and I stopped. “You never mentioned your grandpa in the story.”

She opened the door for me. “He died before I was born.”

I narrowed my eyes. “How did he die?”

She looked me in the eyes and replied, “In a fire.”

“That’s an amazing coincidence,” I said the word even though I didn’t believe it.

She took my hand, “Coincidences are for fools.”

I swallowed and left her little home.

Tara Snellfield died a week after the interview and never received her award. Instead of the write up I had planned to do a small one column obituary took its place. I attended her funeral with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That’s the downside to living to be the oldest citizen in town. She outlived her grandma, parents, brother, two ex-husbands, one husband, all her children, a few grandchildren, and even one great-grandchild.

I even went to the cemetery and watched her casket lowered into the ground. On her right, her third husband is buried. On her left is Thomas. “Still watching out for Thomas,” I said and placed some flowers on her headstone.

All of this family’s secrets were finally buried and could be forgotten. Perhaps now, they could find some peace.

THE END

Independence Day

To get caught up: Part I

Part II

“My family moved around a bit when I was a young girl. It was during the Great Depression. Work was hard to come by. It probably didn’t help matters when the bread winner of the house spent more time in the bars than looking for work,” she let out a deep sigh. “But we come into this world hardwired to love our papas and our mamas and to respect them. It isn’t until we’re older that we realize or even see their imperfections…” she paused and her eyes stared through me.

“Ms. Snellfield?” I asked. Really, all I needed was a few quotes for the paper. I didn’t come looking for any kind of confession to a deep hidden family secret.

“It is time,” she said. “It is time.” And she continued her story.

We moved to Wyoming a year before I turned twelve. Both my parents were from here originally but had moved around to find work. To find a better life. Always in search of something better. My grandma had been instrumental in getting my papa a job in a mine here. I suppose she wanted to keep an eye on her son and his family.

Mama hated coming back though. The high mountain desert makes for tough people. I think mama wanted to be cultured and live the city life. She had many dreams that life took her away from like a boat adrift at sea. She could see the horizon but had no means of getting to where she needed to be. To where she belonged.

Since we had moved around so much, I felt obligated to watch after and take care of my younger brother Thomas. He was only eight but carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. It seemed like he felt things so deeply. More so than I ever did.

The two of us had to be there for each other. Especially when papa would stop at the bar before coming home from work. We would huddle together under the covers when he’d come home and take out his frustrations on mama. I just thought that’s what men did. But Thomas, Thomas knew better. He’d be the one to help mama afterward by cleaning her face and trying to ease her pain. I don’t know why he felt like he needed to pick up the pieces.

Years later, he helped me and picked up my pieces after I married my first husband. A man just like papa.

I remember one day, just after I turned twelve, we visited grandma. She was as tall as she was round but solid. No one ever thought of messing with her. My grandma was well known in the community to be one tough broad. And that’s saying a lot because our community produced many tough people.

Mama sent Thomas and I out to play in the hills behind grandma’s house.

“Thomas,” I said running to our favorite rock, “you be the Indian and I’ll be the cowboy.” I never found any satisfaction in pretending to be a princess or other such nonsense. I always played the hero.

“How come I always have to be the Indian?” Thomas asked catching up with me.

“Because,” I gave my standard answer for any question he asked, “I’m older so I get to be the good guy.”

Unlike other times, Thomas paused. His silence caught my attention and I looked into his eyes. He had the most beautiful eyes next to mama. They were the same shape as mama’s with long eyelashes. This was unfortunate in his view because as papa often reminded him, ‘boys shouldn’t have girly eyes.’ The only difference was mama had light blue eyes and Thomas had dark brown eyes like papa.

“I don’t get it,” Thomas spoke softly. “Why are Indians always the bad guys?”

“Because that’s how it is in the movies,” I said losing patience.

Just then we heard mama calling us.

“See now?” I asked irritated. “Too many questions and no time to play.”

When we got back to the house mama was saying goodbye to grandma.

“It will be okay,” grandma told mama. We didn’t get to see a tender side to grandma too often but both Thomas and I could sense something different about this parting. “Everything will be okay soon enough.”

Mama nodded her head and told Thomas and I to get into the car.

“What do you think they’re talking about?” Thomas asked while we watched them from the car.

I shrugged my shoulders. It was getting hot in the car and I just wished mama would hurry.

Mama walked to the car and climbed in.

“What were you and grandma talking about?” Thomas asked.

“Nothing,” she said and forced a smile. “But I want you to know how much I love you both and a mama’s job is to protect her cubs. And I will do anything to protect mine.” She looked at Thomas directly.

“I’m so hot,” I complained. The moment was missed on me. I took it for granted, a mama’s love. But the moment wasn’t intended for me anyway. I was an intruder on some inside secret between mama and Thomas.

She nodded. “Let’s get home and out of this car then.” And we drove home.

That night mama sent us out of the house before papa came home. I didn’t want to be around when he came home from work anyway. He worked a late shift that day and things were never pleasant at home when he came home from the late shift. I wanted to sleep in a cave behind our neighborhood that night. But Thomas insisted we go home and check on mama. We returned too early.

Trees were almost unheard of in our desert. But the previous owner to our house had taken the time and effort to not only plant a tree but to make sure it thrived. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who had a tree to climb and we often did. It was our spot to hide and wait things out. When we arrived home we climbed our tree and each stretched out on a branch.

“It’s taking longer than usual,” Thomas whispered tensely.

I nodded my head.

“What’s he sayin?” he asked.

“Shh, I can’t hear,” I lied. I could hear the exchange perfectly but didn’t want Thomas to know.

Both of our heads popped up when we heard a slap of leather.

“What is that?” I asked straining to hear.

Thomas nodded his head knowingly. “The belt.”

I looked at him doubtfully. But when his stare caught mine I could see his information wasn’t coming from an unexperienced 8 year old. Instead, it was a voice of knowledge.

“Thomas?” I asked unsure. His eyes lowered to the ground and confirmed my suspicions.

Our attention was drawn next to the back door slamming. We watched as papa stomped off toward town.

As I tucked Thomas into bed moments later, I looked into his brown eyes. I could see a new depth of pain I had never noticed before. I wiped a long strand of hair from his forehead. No eight year old should have to have that much pain behind his eyes, I thought. My eyes shifted to the door and what waited for me in the other room. Neither should a 31 year old.

The next morning was the Fourth of July. Mama was already awake and slowly sipping her coffee at the kitchen table. Although by the looks of her, she probably never had gone to bed. She slowly rocked herself on the kitchen chair and barely seemed to notice us.

“Mama?” Thomas surprised us both.

“Hey there,” she smiled faintly and faced us. I grimaced at the sight of her swollen pink eye. “Listen,” her voice was shaky, “Tara I want you to take Thomas to town today. Your papa will be up soon and will be going into work. He is working a long shift today so he won’t be back until tonight. The fair’s in town, there is plenty to do. You stay in town today, alright?” She pushed two dollars to us and I had to blink my eyes a couple of times. I had never held so much money before. “That’s a gift from your grandma. You two go to town and have a nice day today and don’t come home. I want you to go to your grandma’s house at six, you hear? Do not come home. I will pick you up at from your grandma’s but you have to be there by six.”

I nodded my head and licked my lips. The thought of being responsible for so much money both excited me and made me nervous. I stuffed the money in my pocket. As we were leaving, Thomas ran back to mama and gave her a big hug.

“It will be okay, now,” she said. “Go have fun with your sister today.”

He nodded his head and we walked toward the crowded town streets. A parade was going to kick off the festivities and I wanted to see it.

But that’s the image I see in my mind of mama. Grandma had pictures of her in her wedding dress with her makeup done up and her hair just right, but it’s that image of my mama with dark rings under her eyes, a pink swollen cheek and eye, and looking like she was pushing fifty instead of not even 30, that is how I remember mama.

Thomas and I walked to town and watched the parade. I kept my right hand in my pocket holding onto the money because I didn’t want to lose it. After the parade, we stayed and watched some of the festivities. We ate lunch in a shop and for the first time, we ate until we were both full. That might not have been the best idea as our little stomachs didn’t know what to do with so much food. Thomas started complaining of not feeling well by the early afternoon. But I had promised mama to not return until six.

“Please,” Thomas begged. “I’m not feeling good.”

“Mama said we weren’t to come home until six,” I used my best big sister voice to reprimand him.

He held his stomach. “What time is it?”

I asked a man walking down the sidewalk and found out it was only 4:30. “Too soon,” I told Thomas.

He moaned.

Just then we heard the shrill sound of sirens. I stepped closer to the street to watch the fire truck speed by. There is no reasonable explanation but I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of dread.

“Please,” Thomas cried.

I thought for a moment. Mama always slightly favored Thomas and rarely even yelled at him. As for me, I usually received the brunt of the discipline from her. Since I was the oldest and the girl, she always expected more from me.

“Tara, please,” Thomas pleaded.

I nodded my head slowly. “Okay,” suddenly I wanted to be home and I didn’t care if I would get a scolding for going home early.

We walked slowly in the hot sun. Thomas limped while holding his side. If I didn’t get in trouble for returning early, I was sure to be in trouble for returning Thomas in such poor condition.

“You’re okay, Thomas,” I tried to reason with him. “Don’t limp.”

He tried to walk straight but would always slouch after a few steps.

The closer we got to home, the more commotion was encountered.   When we turned onto our street, we could see the fire truck parked about half way up the hill. It looked like it was right in front of our house. We looked at each other and started running.

There was a crowd of people that had gathered and had tried to help. As we pushed our way through we met the eyes of the volunteers. As soon as they recognized us, they either looked away or nodded their heads. But nobody spoke. They just let us get to the front line.

The fire had been contained but still burned.

“Mama?” Thomas called.

I looked back at the crowd. Surely, she was there. We must have missed her as we walked through all the people. And papa, papa had to be nearby also.

“Papa?” I called. Where were they? Were they helping the firemen?

“Tara?” I heard someone say and I turned around expecting to see papa. It wasn’t him. It was the Police Chief, Mr. Wilson. “Tara and Thomas, I need to speak with you for a moment,” he led us away from the group and took us to a neighbor’s house, Mrs. Smith. She was standing in her kitchen and wiped the tears from her eyes as we entered.

“There you are,” she said. “Chief Wilson said he’d be bringing you over. Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll fix you some tea.” She looked at the Chief and he nodded his head. He slipped back out the door and we each took a seat.

“Now, there’s been an accident,” she explained as calmly as possible.   “Your parents,” her voice faltered, “your parents were in the house.” She paused. “They did not make it out.”

I looked at Thomas. He continued to look at Mrs. Smith.

“I’m so sorry, dears.   Your parents are gone.”

I didn’t want to hear anymore and decided to run out. There had to be some mistake. We just saw mama that morning. How could this happen?

I ran back to the house and watched the men as they finished putting out the fire. Surely, mama would come out any second now. She had to. I refused to believe she was gone.

She never came out.

I climbed the tree and watched the smoke reach to the sky. My life had just changed. I needed something, anything to hold onto that had not changed. I stretched out on a branch and watched the firemen finish their job and begin to leave. All of them left except for two. Chief Wilson and a younger fireman.

“Sir, I must speak to you,” the younger fireman said to Chief Wilson. “What is it, Doak?” the Chief asked.

“There is something strange about this whole thing, sir,” Doak said.

There was a slight pause and then they shifted their position slightly so that they were out of the way from everyone else. But they moved directly underneath my tree. I knew they didn’t know I was there so I made an effort not to move and listened intently.

“Go on, Doak,” Chief Wilson said.

“We found the bodies and to tell you the truth, I think we’re going the wrong way in this investigation.”

“I’m telling you, he came home early from work and passed out with a lit cigarette,” the Chief’s words caused me to almost fall out of the tree. It was papa’s fault?

“No sir, I think it was started intentionally,” Doak responded.

Intentional? Papa set the house on fire? I don’t know why I was so quick to blame papa but that’s the only thing that made sense. Even to my young mind.

“He didn’t start it,” Doak continued.

Chief Wilson looked at him. “I know him from school. It was him.”

“Consider this,” Doak pressed on, “he appears to have been lying on her feet.”

The Chief listened and nodded his head. “I’m sure he wasn’t helping her up. He was holding her down.”

It was Doak’s turn to nod his head. “Perhaps but…”

“There’s more?” Wilson asked.

“There was some residue of rope around his ankles. It also appears he had been tied up.”

Tied up?

“And we found suitcases in the bedroom on the bed.” Doak waited a minute for his words to sink in. “It’s my professional opinion that she was leaving him. I think she set the fire on purpose and he tried to stop her.”

Wilson paced back and forth and looked around to make sure nobody else had heard. “Did you tell anyone else this, Joe College?”

“No, sir,” Doak responded.

“Then don’t. This information stops right here. This fire was an accident. That is the official ruling.”

“But…”Doak tried to protest.

“You are not from here,” Wilson used his most authoritative voice. “I am. I went to school with both of them. Why she chose to tie her lot with him has always been a mystery. But she did. She was too good for him and didn’t deserve this. I will not let her name be dragged through this town’s mud. This fire was an accident, pure and simple. Case closed.”

Doak didn’t say a word.

“If I catch you saying otherwise, you will be transferred so quickly out of this town and I will make sure you will not set foot in any law enforcement jobs ever again. You may have your connections with the state but it will not help you to find a job in any town. This is how it works in the real world. All your fancy education will be a waste, do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir,” Doak said.

“Good,”Wilson relaxed a little bit. “Now go home, and enjoy your Fourth of July with your family.”

Doak nodded his head and turned and left. To his credit, he never uttered a word about what he had found in the house. The town from that day forward called the fire accidental although most were convinced papa had something to do with it. But nobody blamed mama and she became the town’s saint. A poor victim.

At that moment, I, however, became very angry with mama. This was her fault that much I understood. Even though I loved her and I was loyal enough that I did not tell a single soul what I knew – not even Thomas – I felt a lot of resentment toward her. I carried that with me for many years until I fled in the middle of the night from my first husband. Then I understood. With understanding came the sweet release of forgiveness. I hold no grudge against my mama. She did what she needed to do.

Years later, I took care of grandma as she struggled with making peace before passing on. She slipped in and out of clarity. But most days she seemed to live in the past. One of those times, I listened to her almost incoherent conversation and pieced more of the picture together.

“They’ll be gone, they’ll be gone,” she mumbled.

“Who will be gone, grandma?” I asked while applying a damp washcloth to her forehead. “It’s a perfect plan, he will come home from work and they’ll be gone. “

I let her ramble for a moment.

Suddenly, she sat up in bed. “Luke is a good boy, he’s a good boy.” I stopped what I was doing and listened intently. She was talking about papa again. “He’s such a tender heart, a tender heart.” I had never heard papa described as a ‘tender heart’ before so I thought she was giving in to one of her delusions. “He’s such a tender heart,” her eyes narrowed, “but that monster beat it out of him. He beat it out of him until there was no more tenderness left. We were given two boys. One was his, an exact copy of the monster. The other was mine. Luke was supposed to be mine. I was supposed to protect him but I didn’t. I didn’t.” Grandma and grandpa had two boys. Levi, the oldest, had drifted from town to town causing trouble and usually ended up being run out of each town he entered. Luke, my papa, married mama in high school.

I rinsed the washcloth in a wash basin next to the bed. “Shh, grandma, it’s okay,” I put the washcloth back on her forehead.

She grabbed my hand rather strongly and looked into my eyes. “We must protect the boy. I didn’t protect my Luke. The boy, the boy is just like him. We must protect him.”

She was talking about Thomas.

“I will give you money to get away. When he is at work on the long shift, you pack your suitcases and get ready. Burn that house down. Burn it to the ground so that there is nothing left. Then leave. Leave town with those kids. Protect the boy like I should have protected mine. Let him think you were in the house. I have money saved up. Take that. Take the kids and get a fresh start.”

That was the plan. While papa was at work, burn the house down and slip quietly out of town for a fresh start.

“I let the monster turn my Luke into a monster.   I should have stopped him but I didn’t. It’s too late, too late. Protect the boy.” Grandma relaxed a bit and fell asleep.

The next day, I was picking up some dirty linen from the floor when I heard her mumble, “At least, my Luke died trying to be a hero.”

I realized she had no idea what had happened. None of us actually knew the truth but from what I pieced together I think I had the most complete picture. Grandma and mama had come up with some plan to get the three of us out of town. It involved staging an accident that looked like we had died in a house fire.

Mama sent Thomas and I to town so that she could pack. Papa was supposed to be working a long shift in the mine so he should have been out of the house and unreachable until late that night. But grandma didn’t know that he had been sent home early a few times that month due to inappropriate conduct at work. This must have been one of those times. At any rate, he came home early. Perhaps he saw the suitcases being filled. It wouldn’t surprise me if he tore into mama.

Afterward, he probably passed out and mama saw her chance to modify the plan. She tied him up. But he woke up and there was a struggle. If she started the fire or if the fire started because of the struggle that much I don’t know. But both perished in the fire.

Grandma must have thought the fire had already started when papa returned home. In her mind, or at least what she had convinced herself of to get some peace, he ran in to rescue us and instead, he and mama died. I don’t know if she actually believed it or if she just needed to so that she could distance herself from the part she played in the matter.

Grandma died with a smile on her lips thinking she was going to be reunited with her hero son. A smile on her lips but a fear in her eyes because of the reckoning that was coming due. We lived with grandma and in relative peace for four years. But four years to the day we had become orphans all that changed when the monster came home.

Independence Day part III

Independence Day

(fiction)

The sun beat down taking no prisoners. I looked up at the sky and couldn’t see a cloud in the dark blue vastness and knew there would be no relief to the punishing heat. On my car’s radio, I had heard that it had topped 100 degrees. After I had parked my car and started walking up the walkway to the old house, I believed it.

“I hope she has air conditioning,” I muttered to myself as I looked at the old pink house. I walked between two dry lilac trees that had probably smelled sweet a month or so earlier but now the purple flowers were dry, golden yellow and drooping. As I stepped onto the porch, the change from the direct heat to the shaded heat caused me to gasp a moment for air and I tried wiping my forehead with my sweaty hand.  

I looked around on the porch after I knocked on the door and saw flowers in vases all around. Despite the heat, they were still blooming and I could tell someone had taken great care of them to allow them to live during this time of sweltering heat. I turned and looked at the door again. There had been no response so I knocked again, this time louder.

“I heard ya the first time,” someone from inside yelled faintly through the big, thick wooden door. The locks started clinking as they were unlocked, one by one, from the other side so I stepped back and waited. Finally, after several moments the door opened slightly. The chain was still fastened and all I could see was an eye staring at me intently.

“You’d think you lived in the city,” I tried joking to ease the situation. I’ve never been considered a charmer, and I always seem to pick the wrong moments to joke. This was no exception.

The door slammed shut again. I knocked again. “Hello?” I called through the door though it was so thick I felt like it muffled and absorbed my yell. “I’m Lisa Davis from the paper. I have an appointment with Ms. Tara Snellfield.” I paused to wait for a response. “I do have an appointment.”

The door slowly opened again and I was staring at a white haired older lady. I held out my hand, “I’m Lisa Davis,” I repeated.

She looked down at my hand then shook it briefly. “I’m Tara Snellfield.”

“Oh,” I said somewhat surprised, “then you’re the town’s citizen of the year?” It came out as a question due to her behavior just moments before.

A warm smile spread across her lips. “You’re a reporter?” she asked almost under her breath but audible enough for me to hear.

I could feel my hot, red cheeks deepen in color. “I just meant,” I fumbled for an explanation but knew there wasn’t one.

“Please, come in,” she opened the screen door for me, “before all my cold air gets out.”

I felt happy to hear she had air conditioning and felt the relief as soon as I stepped inside. “Thank you.” “

Have a seat,” she motioned with one hand as the other fastened the door shut. “I just made some lemonade, would you like a glass?”

“That would be nice, thank you,” I replied as I looked around at the small room. It was big enough for her couch and two chairs, but it seemed small due to the fact nearly every square inch was covered by some memorabilia. Pictures of children in various stages of growth were on the walls, and mementoes from travels and friends were on shelves. I sensed things had gotten off to a bad start and tried to make up for it, “Lovely family,” I called out.

After a moment, she walked in the room carrying a tray and two glasses. “Nice family,” I repeated.

She smiled politely. “Thank you. Please have a seat.”

I sat down and the plastic lined couch squeaked. “Do you mind if I tape record our conversation?” I asked as I pulled out my mini-recorder from my bag.

“Do what you gotta do,” she looked nervously at the recorder.

I pushed record and set it on the table. “You won’t even notice it,” I reassured her. She continued to stare at the recorder and nodded her head slowly. I flipped my small notebook open and got my pen ready to write. “The town’s citizen of the year?” I asked to draw her eyes to mine.

She looked at me and nodded.

“That’s quite an honor,” I smiled.

She shrugged her shoulders.

“You don’t think so?” I asked.

She leaned closer to me, “My dear, the only accomplishment that requires such an honor is living long enough to receive it.”

“Maybe so,” I couldn’t argue. The town’s tradition had been, since I could remember, to hand out the award to the oldest person still living and able to function rather independently. “But think of the alternative.”

She thought about it a moment and then a low, hoarse sound started coming from her. I looked at her in horror until I realized she was laughing. She bowed her head slowly towards me.

“Why don’t we start at the beginning?” I asked relieved she was now smiling warmly. “Tell me about your family.”

Her eyes looked past me and seemed to be studying some distant scenery. She was lost in thought as she reviewed her life history inside her mind. Slowly she nodded her head. “It is time.”

“Pardon?” I asked.

“It is time someone else knew the whole story. A story only I know about now,” she drifted off again thinking. I was expecting some run of the mill story of a sweet old lady. Funny how fast things can change.  

Independence Day Part II

Friday, July 3

(fiction)

Harold looked at his watch. He let out a sigh and shook his wrist. It had to be later than that. He peeked around his cubicle to the clock on the wall. Nope, his watch was right on. He bit his bottom lip and looked at his computer screen again. Now was the time to stay focused even if it was Thursday, July 3rd.

He knew how he wanted to spend the holiday weekend. If it were up to him, in five minutes, he would call his wife and tell her to get ready for the weekend. He imagined she would sound exasperated at his whims and complain she needed more time to get the kids ready. But she wouldn’t be upset at all. She would be excited for the chance to get away.

His dedication to his job would pay off and he’d finish work and be able to start the long weekend an hour early. He’d turn in his spreadsheet on the boss’s desk. The boss would comment about the excellent work Harold consistently produced. Harold would blush a little and wave his hand as if to wipe away the comment.

Harold would race home in his Jeep Cherokee. His home in the suburbs would be a modest three bedroom house. It worked for his family. His two boys, ages 9 and 4, would race to him. He’d wrestle with the oldest a moment. The youngest, who looked like his mother, would lead him by the hand inside.

His wife would have everything ready to go. That was one of the many small reasons he loved her. They’d exchange a soft kiss and he’d rub her swollen stomach. He’d ask if she wanted to go camping for the weekend since the due date was so close. She would smile and reply, “Of course.” He would have to kiss her again. Their boys would make gagging sounds and pull him away so that he could pack.

They would find some secluded spot to camp for the weekend. For the next three days, the world’s population would consist of just Harold’s family. He’d teach his youngest to fish. The oldest would catch the biggest fish of the day and there would be many pictures taken to prove it. His wife would fix the fish just right that evening. Fish never tasted as good as it did on their camping trips.

That night, he’d bring out the sparklers that he had bought for the weekend. His boys would spend the evening trying to spell their names or draw designs in the dark night.

During the night, it would rain just slightly to give the air a wonderful perfume.

“Harold,” a gruff voice yelled causing him to jump. “Are you paying attention?”

It was his boss. It was still the 3rd of July and Harold was still at work.

“Yes, sir,” Harold muttered and sat up straight in his chair. He shook his head trying to clear the elaborate daydream he had just been in.

“Get that spreadsheet done by five,” his boss said shaking his head. His round face had turned red and he was spitting as he talked. “Or you’ll have to stay late or come in tomorrow.” He turned his roly-poly body and stomped back into his office.

“Yes, sir,” Harold hissed. He tried to stay focused but he still didn’t finish until an hour after everyone else had left. He sent the spreadsheet to his boss’s email and sighed.

His blue Ford Escort with the peeling paint job was the only car left in the parking lot. He climbed in and tried to start it. It sputtered but didn’t catch. He tried again. Still nothing. He rubbed his hand on the steering wheel. “C’mon, old girl, please start.” He tried again, this time it started.

He drove to his one bedroom apartment. A couple of kids from his apartment building were out on the sidewalk. He rolled his eyes. “Hey, Tubby,” they called to him and threw noisemakers at his feet making him jump. He put his head down and walked faster.

His landlord’s door was wide open so he tiptoed past it. He didn’t need a reminder his rent was due. Slowly, he made his way up the narrow stairs to the fourth floor. Each step up he took reminded him of his doctor’s orders to lose weight. He rested a moment to catch his breath before opening his apartment door. He opened it and hoped he would see some semblance of his daydream. But the only thing that waited for him was a beat up brown leather recliner with a piece of duct tape across the back. He plopped in it and reclined. At least his tv still worked and he clicked it on. His right hand reached into a bowl of Cheese-Puffs he kept to the side. This was how he would spend the long weekend because this was how he spent every weekend.

Someday, he would start a tradition of camping with his family. He just needed the last piece in the puzzle – a life.

The Gold Leaf

(fiction)

A little box filled with my office belongings sat on the passenger seat as I drove home.  I decided last week that this would be my last day.  My last day at the office and the last day on this earth.  I didn’t tell anyone when I said my goodbyes.  Mainly because I didn’t think anyone would really care.

“It seems unfair,” I mumbled to myself. I was stopped at the usual red light on my way home. If I didn’t know any better, I would swear this intersection had it out for me. The light always turned red whenever I approached. No matter which direction I came from.  “This is our last time to meet like this,” I said to the light.  It stayed red.

I looked at the row of trees next to the road. The leaves were already turning yellow and the evening sun lit them up like gold. It seemed unfair to me that God would save this beauty for the leaves’ dying breath. “I wonder if humans get the same dying beauty?” I asked only the car because as usual I was the sole occupant.

The light turned green and the traffic began slowly moving. I made my way home on my usual route. My apartment had a certain autumn coolness when I stepped in and I turned up the heat but not too much. I couldn’t afford to heat my apartment as much as I wanted to. Instead, I put on my old sweater I kept at the foot of my bed.

I opened my freezer and stared at my choices for dinner. Frozen Teriyaki Chicken edged out frozen Chicken and Mushrooms just barely. I threw the box in the microwave and began heating it up. Warmth was finally reaching my cheeks as I looked at the blank walls in my kitchen. The off white walls could use a fresh coat of paint. Maybe the new tenant would get lucky and the landlord would paint.

The microwave beeped and I took out my dinner. Of course, the middle was still cold but the edges bubbled. I turned the television on to watch.   I sat on the couch and put my feet on the stupid coffee table my great aunt had given me. If I wasn’t so lazy, I would have thrown the table away a long time ago. Instead, I used it as my footstool.

What would my final viewing be? I flipped it to Entertainment Tonight. The can of Pringles I kept by the chair only had crumbs left. I brought the can up to my mouth and tipped my head back. The crumbs fell liberally on my shirt. “No matter,” I said and brushed a few off, “it’s not like I need to impress anyone where I’m going.”

Last week I had decided while at work that this would be my last day on this earth. My dreams had remained just that, dreams. My life was pathetic. No one would notice if I didn’t show up to work tomorrow. What if I just let the night take me?  Yesterday I purchased several over the counter drugs to help me drift off into a never ending sleep.

Just then, my neighbors on the left returned home. The thin walls in the apartment building betrayed the dwellers. There were no secrets here. I referred to my neighbors as the “Typical American Family.” Whenever I saw them outside, they always smiled and said a cheery hello. However, I knew how artificial and hollow their smiles actually were. I could hear them through the walls at night. Like an invisible member of their family, I knew their secret.

Instinctively, I used my remote to turn up the volume on my television set. That never helped. I heard the heavy thuds on the stairs and my heart raced. No matter what I tried, I could not block out the sound. I even tried ear plugs but I hate sticking anything in my ears. So, I audibly witnessed everything that happened to this family.

I clutched the arm of the couch and held my breath as I heard the door open. What I referred to as the Beast had just come home to its lair. Right off the bat, I could sense he looked for a fight.

“Where’s my food?” he snarled.

“We just got home,” his wife replied quickly.

“That’s just great. Been out spending money faster than I can make it. Hope you’re happy.”

“We were grocery shopping,” she explained and could hear her opening cabinet doors.

“Grocery shopping?” there was a pause. “What are these then?”

“Cole needed new shoes. His last pair was held together with duct tape.”

“That’s just great,” he said. “As long as Cole is taken care of. I guess it don’t matter if I go hungry.”

“I got some tv dinners, supper will be ready in a minute.”

“Because I have time to wait.”

At that last statement, I snorted. From experience, I knew the only pressing engagement he had for the evening was watching ESPN. I wished he would just turn on his television already. The added noise helped muffle sounds.

Even though I knew the outcome, I turned up the volume on my television.  It was my hope he’d get the hint even though he never did get it. I heard him trudge to the wall and start banging on it. Normally, I would acquiesce and turn the volume back down. But tonight? Tonight I had nothing to lose so I didn’t do anything.

“Turn down that racket!” he yelled. “My family can’t hear themselves think.”

“Who is he kidding?” I mumbled but I didn’t budge. My palms became sweaty but I decided I was going to take a stand on this last night.

He banged again and I ignored him. My heart started racing.   I thought he might just bang a hole in the thin walls but instead, he gave up.

A few moments of eerie silence in their apartment betrayed the intensity. I took a deep breath because I knew what was coming. First the dull thuds followed by the screams and groans. All sounds that should have bothered me more than they do. I was sad that they didn’t bother me more.

This was my cue to get as far away as possible. I gathered my half full garbage and headed for the dumpster. If there were to be strangers in my apartment tomorrow, I wanted it to be somewhat clean.

As I walked back to my apartment, I saw a little boy sitting on the steps in front of my door. He couldn’t have been more than five. I recognized him as Cole because I had seen him with his mother. His blue eyes were filled with tears and he watched me approach. I put my head down and started to walk past him. But at the last moment, his eyes penetrated my soul and I couldn’t move.

My throat went dry. What was I doing?

“Do you wanna come in?” the words had to have come from somebody else. Surely, I wouldn’t be getting involved. Not tonight of all nights. I wished life had an undo button that I could push and then just keep walking.

He sized me up. Weighing options heavier than I ever had to make and then he nodded his head once.

I knew we would have to hurry. The beast was surely on the hunt searching for his prey.

“C’mon,” I said quickly. He knew to hurry. I let him in my apartment first and closed my door. My hands were shaking as I fastened all the locks. I looked at the door and thought it look like it was made of straw. Definitely not a match for the big bad wolf.

The noise from the television caught my attention and I picked up the remote and turned it down. I looked at Cole. My only thought was, ‘now what?’ With any luck, no one had seen us come into my apartment and we could hide out for a while. But for how long? The boy was only five and he was in my apartment. There was no happy ending with this.

“Oh no,” I said out loud as sweat beaded on my forehead. “I just kidnapped someone.”

His blue eyes continued to watch me.

“Look, kid,” I said quickly, “I’d like to help you, but…”

He sensed where I was going and began to cry. Loudly.

I heard the footsteps at my door, then someone banging on it. “You got my kid in there?”

Things just went from bad to worse.

“You calling the police?” he snarled.

The police? I crossed the room to the sobbing figure on the couch. “You know how to call 911?” I asked with a sudden clarity of mind.

He nodded.

“Go into that bedroom,” I pointed. “Close the door. Hide under the bed and call 911.” I instructed. I wished the boy and I could switch places and I hide and let him answer the door. But from somewhere deep inside me, very deep, a wave of bravery swept over me. I didn’t know what the source was but I acted on it.

The beast continued to bang on the door and I thought he was going to break my door down. I waited for a few moments after the boy had run out of the room and down the hall. Hopefully, the boy would follow through. I took a deep breath.

I’ve never been a praying kind of person but I could feel one growing inside of me. To my surprise, I wasn’t praying for myself. Instead, I was praying for the boy and his mother.

My palms were dripping with sweat when I finally opened the door. The first thing I could see was a heaving chest. My eyes slowly made their way up to his red face.

“Where is he?” he spit his words out.

I clenched my fist but did not move my body. This must have been what David faced when he stared down Goliath. Suddenly, I wished I had sling shot and stones. Just as well I didn’t, I had no idea how to use them.

“Where’s my kid?” he snarled again looking over my head into the living room. “I know he’s in here.”

Everything in my makeup and history told me to step aside. Actually, that familiar inner voice told me to run away. But for some reason, I refused to move.

My hesitancy agitated the beast.

“Get my kid,” his tone changed from angry to losing-control angry.

To both our surprise, I didn’t move.

“Get my kid,” he warned again and I knew I was pushing my luck.

Where were the police? It felt like a lifetime ago since I sent the kid down the hall. What if he didn’t call? Suddenly I sensed my fate rested on a five year old and I felt stupid.

My body wanted to run but I just stood planted in that spot blocking the doorway. The beast knew there was nothing I could do to physically stop him. It didn’t take much effort for him to push past me. It took all the strength and skill I had to not fall.

The beast was in my apartment. He searched for his boy. I didn’t recognize the resolve inside of myself but knew it had somehow, somewhere along the way, surfaced.  It was a small place and it would only take moments for him to find the boy. Then what? I wasn’t sure what to do to stall him so I did the first thing that came to my mind. I jumped on his back.

It definitely did not stop him or even slow him down. What it did was make him even angrier. He spun around trying to shake me off. But fear made me cling even tighter. He stumbled in my small living room doing his best to get rid of his unwanted passenger. I did my best to hold on.

We heard the sirens at the same time. Both of us knew their destination. Actually, I hoped this was their destination. I continued to cling to him despite his best efforts to free himself. I needed to see the protection of the police before I let go.

He called me every name he could think of as if that would entice me to let go. It did not. It made me hold even tighter around his neck.

At that moment, I wished I hadn’t been so lazy. I wished I would have thrown away that ugly coffee table that took up too much room in my tiny apartment.

The beast must have gotten dizzy from all his spinning. All I know is, he lost his balance and we both went down. Unfortunately, he fell backward. We seemed to fall in slow motion. I saw the police barge into the apartment. I also saw his wife with a swollen and bloody face come around the corner calling out for Cole. Then I heard a horrible crack and felt a searing pain in the back of my head. My head had just connected with the edge of that stupid coffee table and then a 250 pound mass fell on top of me.

The door was left open and when I opened my eyes I could see a tree out in the courtyard. I watched as a beautiful gold leaf take its last breath and let go. Just like me. So God and I had planned my last day to be the same day. Go figure.

© 2014 ck’s days

Frozen Roses

I don’t really get whole stories in my head.  Instead, I get short powerful scenes.  And that’s it.  I found this snippet while going through my computer.  I have no idea when I wrote it or what direction I was going in it.  But I thought I’d share anyway.

 

“Nothing quite as noble as death.” she whispered as she gazed at the cold tombstone. “I hated you in life, and I pity you in death.” The tears in her eyes stung but she refused to let them fall down her cheeks. A cold, bitter laugh worked it’s way out of her throat. “I should have been able to love you in life, and miss you in death.” She swallowed, “An obligatory rose,” she placed a red rose on the coffin and looked around. The few people who had braved the below zero temperatures for her father had already cleared the cemetery. “It figures,” she said bitterly. The funeral home director anxiously watched her, waiting for her to leave so that he could give the go ahead to the grave diggers and leave.

She wasn’t even sure why she was still standing there, alone. The only thing she knew was that she couldn’t make herself move. The biting cold had numbed her cheeks and chin, her feet felt like ice blocks, and her fingers could feel the bitter wind through her gloves. She looked at the frozen rose she had placed on the coffin. “It’s fitting,” she said to herself, “a frozen rose for someone who had a frozen heart.”

“You don’t mean that,” she heard a familiar, deep voice behind her.

Quickly she turned to find the son of her father’s business partner, Darius, standing behind her.

She forced a weak smile at him. Now was not the time to argue.   She had to argue with her father since she was a small child, she was tired of it. Her father knew how to give good appearances to people. Some people would miss him. They would mourn a stranger. Only she knew what he really was, and only she would be conflicted. Of course, she would mourn the loss of her father, but she would mourn it as someone who never really was. She never considered the man buried as her father, only the person who helped give her life. And that would be the person she would miss, her life giver. But buried in the coffin was a person most people would never know about. A monster only she had known. And it was that person, that monster, she was almost glad, or at least relieved, to see go.

She wasn’t alone. Darius held her to comfort her. But she didn’t want his comfort. He thought he was comforting the loss of her father, when she needed comfort for the loss of the monster. Instinctively, she pulled away.

“You don’t have to be strong by yourself,” he said reprimanding her for her courage.

She looked at him. It was as if he was speaking in a foreign language to her. The only thing she could do was to shake her head and walk toward the limo. It wasn’t her choice to ride in the family limo provided by the funeral home, but she was the only family left. As good as her dad was at keeping appearances, she was determined to do so also. But now, it seemed to mock her. She slid into the limo and waited for the driver to walk around. The car was cold and big.

Tears she managed to hold in for the past week finally worked their way down her cheeks. “I only thought I was alone before,” she mumbled. A nervous feeling deep inside began to grow. For the past week, time seemed to stop as she took care of the details. As if someone had hit the pause button on her life, now it felt like the play button had been pressed. “Time to get into the routine of life again,” she whispered as the limo pulled away.

At the luncheon, church members approached her tentatively. “I’m sorry for your loss,” one would say with words but with eyes asking how she could have abandoned a sick father.

Some didn’t talk to her at all. Choosing to snub her as if punishing her for leaving her father alone when he had been so sick.

 

Others, who had been taught politeness and mistook it for charity, talked to her and even gave her comforting hugs. She couldn’t hug them back. Even though she knew they had no idea what kind of man her father was, she still associated them with him. The most she could do was to thank the people for their kindness and attentiveness to her ailing father. What she wanted to do was to run out of the church and never return.

Instead, she continued to stand and let people either glare at her or approach her. Either way, she barely noticed anyone. The only word that came to her mind was, “Orphan.” Though that seemed ridiculous. Who ever heard of a 28 year old orphan?

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” a familiar voice said.

She looked into the eyes of a friend from high school.

“How long will you be in town?” Her friend asked.

“Not long, just a few days to tie up some matters.” She hated that her voice sounded so weak and pitiful.

“Let’s get together and do lunch,” her friend smiled and touched her elbow.

Instinctively, she drew back. But was upset at herself for doing so. It was what this place did to her. She wanted to explain it was his fault that she couldn’t stand to be touched. Instead, she forced a weak smile. “I’d like that, call me.”

Her friend nodded her head and stepped away so that others could give condolences.

She wanted to be done with it. Though she hadn’t communicated with her father in ten years, an overwhelming sense of loneliness enveloped her. Her soul felt dark and no light could penetrate it.

People finally stopped coming and the gym emptied out. Was that a normal amount of people for a funeral? She wondered. Do funerals usually last this long? Or was his shorter? She couldn’t imagine his funeral being longer than anybody else’s.

A Timeless Writers Heart

guest blogger

by Suzy Hazelwood

 

The cover of a book

can display more fiction

than the words on the actual page

And beginnings

and endings

can beg the reader to buy

But the books

that I never fall out of love with

their covers often bland

are to be found

or acquired

by chance of being there

just a lucky day

 

My mind quivers

with eager anticipation

at what my eyes will see

between the musty ancient pages

as my fingers stroke the aged and tatty skin

of a book from long ago

 

Authors I’ve not heard of

but were men of great fame

in their literary day

Publications

declared to be written ‘By A Lady’

a nameless novelist

a woman

quietly competing

in a man’s world of books

All their words folded into paper

a hundred years or more

the print

waiting

to be read

or spoken

just one more time

 

And now I

this woman of ebook future

and computer literate age

will absorb

the declaration

the knowledge

and the beauty

of a timeless writers heart

 

 

http://wordmusing.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/a-timeless-writers-heart/

31 Days, 31 Dates: Chapter 1

There’s a rumor I’ve heard that at a certain point in your life you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.  I’m not sure what age that is, although I have my suspicion it happens about two minutes before you pass through the veil.  Despite what teenage girls everywhere think, it’s definitely not the age of 25.  If it were, I wouldn’t be standing outside an institute building on a Sunday morning in Laramie, Wyoming, staring at the front door.

The sign invited visitors, but I wasn’t a visitor.  Technically, I was one of them.  This is where I was supposed to belong.  But I didn’t belong.  Not anymore.  I used to.  But that seemed like a long time ago.  And a different girl.

I bit my bottom lip.  Of all the feats and impossible acts mankind has performed, opening a door is not one of them.  Yet, there I stood unable to perform the simple task of opening a door.

I heard giggling behind me and turned to see a girl who looked barely old enough to be in the singles ward.  She smiled, and leaned toward the guy who walked with her.  His dark hair was slicked back and his suit pressed.  His short frame made him look like he wore his father’s suit.  Her blues eyes danced in amusement as her short, curly blond hair bobbed up and down.   As she past me, I noticed her cheeks imprinted with dimples.  He held the door open for her and as she went in, she stood on her tiptoes and said, “Thanks, Darren.”

He beamed and looked like that moment was the proudest moment of his life.  He looked at me as if I was intruding on his personal triumph.  “Are you coming?”

I looked around trying to think of a reason not to follow.  Unless I wanted to pose as a crazy person that stalked church buildings, there was no excuse.  “Thanks,” I smiled politely and walked in.

I had never been in that particular building before in my life, but it felt familiar.  A painting of the Woman at the Well hung above the couch.  I glanced to the chapel.  The couch looked more inviting and I wished I didn’t promise my brother I’d sit with him.  I walked into the chapel and noticed it was decorated in the purple theme.  Huge windows on the sides of the stand allowed light to flood in.

My instinct was to go to the back of the chapel.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t early enough to procure the coveted back seat.  At least I wasn’t so late that I had to sit in front.  I got a spot in the middle on the side.

I looked around nervously.  My goal was to find my brother without making eye contact with anyone else.

“Hey, Grace,” I heard to my right.  I breathed a sigh of relief to find brother, Matt putting his scriptures next to me.  “Glad you made it.  I don’t feel like walking home after, can you give me a lift?”

I nodded my head.  My brother’s attempt of going green prompted him to sell his car. During the week he used public transportation to get to and from work.  For the most part, anywhere else he wanted to go he either walked or rode his bike.

“I’m passing the sacrament, so I’ll join you afterward.”

I nodded.  A huge sigh of relief escaped as I watched him walk to the front of the chapel.  As I watched him, I noticed a guy stop him to talk to him.  Suddenly, they both turned in my direction.

Uh-oh, this can’t be good.  I picked up a hymn book and started to flip through it anxiously.  However, I could tell they were walking in my direction.

“Gracie,” Matt said, “this is Wyatt.  Wyatt, this is my sister Grace.  She just moved here.”

“Nice to meet you,” Wyatt said with a smile.  He stuck his hand out for me to shake. “Unfortunately for you, you picked a bad time to come.”

My eyebrows furrowed.

He laughed.  “I’m speaking today.”

“Oh,” I said forcing a laugh.  Got to love that Mormon humor.  “Maybe I should leave,” I turned to leave.

“Stay,” Matt commanded and I resented being treated like a dog.

Wyatt thought we were performing some kind of comedy routine and laughed again.  “Only if I can leave with you.”

I smiled weakly.  Matt held his index finger at me as if that held the power to keep me on the bench.  Which, it must have worked because all I did was glare at him.

“I better get up on the stand,” Wyatt said and shook my hand again.  “I’ll see you later?”

Apparently, with Matt’s mighty finger, I wasn’t going anywhere.  I nodded my head.  They walked to the front of the chapel.  I decided to continue flipping through the hymn book until service started.

*******

I paced back and forth in the foyer of the church.  I looked at my watch for what seemed like the bazillionth time in five minutes.  “C’mon, Matt,” I muttered out loud and flopped onto the couch.  Just then, the chapel doors opened and two men walked out.  Quickly I sat up straight and made sure I was sitting ladylike in my skirt.

The two men were deep in conversation.  One was wearing an expensive suite and was tall, well over 6 feet because he had to duck coming out of the chapel.  The other was shorter, probably not even 6 feet tall, with thick brown wavy hair and he smiled at me.  It was Wyatt.  As he conversed with the taller guy, he kept glancing over at me.

I smiled politely at him but was trying to use mental telepathy to get Matt to come.  It wasn’t working.

“I’ll see you later, Connor,” said Wyatt.  He started walking toward me.

Oh no.   I really didn’t want to shake his hand again.

“Oh, Wyatt,” Connor said in a deep, low voice while turning around.

That’s it, keep him occupied.

Connor mumbled something to Wyatt but his voice was so low, I couldn’t understand what he said.

Wyatt stopped walking and looked at him.  Now was my chance to run.   I looked down the hall and looked at my high heels. Maybe not.

“What are we doing again?”  Wyatt asked Connor.

Connor mumbled a reply.  I thought I heard volleyball mentioned. Connor pointed at him.

“Yeah, I have a lot of work to do, but I’ll try and make it.”

“Right on,” Connor said and for the first time noticed me sitting on the couch. He mumbled something to me but I didn’t understand.  Which was okay because he didn’t wait for an answer.  I looked behind him down the hall willing my brother to come at that moment.

Wyatt sat down next to me.  “So,” he smiled.  “How did I do?”

“It was good,” I smiled my most polite smile.

He nodded slowly.  “So, you’re new in the ward?”

“I’ve been here about a month,” I tried to nonchalantly check my watch.

“I don’t remember seeing you,” Wyatt ignored my watch check.

I shrugged.  “I haven’t been the most active.”

“Oh,” he said not wanting to dive into such a personal topic on the first conversation.

“I enjoyed your talk,” I said.  “It was very…” I wanted to say long, “informative.”

“Informative?” he laughed.  “If by informative you mean spiritual or I just gave a long winded narrative of the virtue of keeping the Sabbath Day holy?”

I forced a laugh. “I meant, it was something I needed to hear.”

“Oh,” he said perking up.

Perhaps I should have let it go with that, but I couldn’t help but add, “Over and over and over again.”

He looked at me and I smiled.

“Hey Wyatt,” a voice to the side of us said, “good talk today.”

I stood up as Wyatt turned around.  “Thanks, Matty.”  He looked at me as if I were going to disagree.

I rolled my eyes.  “I was just kidding you, it was a good talk.”

He nodded but didn’t look like he believed me.

“Wyatt is the Elder’s Quorum president,” Matt explained.

“Well,” I said because I wanted this conversation to end so that we could leave.  “It was nice to meet you,” I again smiled. Then feeling bad about my earlier comment, I felt like I needed to reassure him.  “And it was a good talk.”

“Thanks.” Wyatt smiled unsure of the sincerity.

“Listen, we better go,” Matt looked at me.

I rolled my eyes.  He knew I had been waiting for him for fifteen minutes.    “Ready when you are.”

“Later,” Matt nodded at Wyatt.  “I’ll probably see you at dinner groups.”

“See ya,” I gave one last parting smile to Wyatt.

“Hey Grace,” Wyatt said as Matt opened the outside door for me.

So close to freedom, I turned around.

“Will I see you at FHE tomorrow night?”

“FHE?” I asked.  Matt nudged me with his arm.

I wanted to say no.  “Sure,” I smiled.

“We’ll probably play volleyball.”

“Oh,” I said again.  My mind raced with excuses to get out of going.

“Great, see you then,” he nodded to Matt and we walked out the door.

As I climbed in my car I couldn’t help but mumble, “Oh no.”

31 Days, 31 Dates: Prologue

I pushed the scan button on my car radio searching for a radio station.  All I heard was static.  “C’mon,” I said to myself and pushed again.  “There’s got to be something.”  My old Buick Oldsmobile was crammed with all my earthly possessions and I was tired of driving.  Interstate 80 from Provo to Laramie seemed a little desolate and I felt lonely.  I needed to hear some music to get my mind off of things and I couldn’t find a radio station.  Unfortunately, my car was so old it didn’t have an mp3 player or even a CD player.  A broken toothpick was stuck in the side of the on button to hold it in place.  “C’mon,” I muttered again.  Suddenly, a song broke through the static.  “Finally,” I sighed.

After a moment, I could make out the strains of a country song bewailing a relationship that had come to an end.  “Forget that,” I said and took out the toothpick.  “I need something to get my mind off of that, not on it.”