Sweet Elaine

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That sweet Elaine
That sweet Elaine
I do not like that sweet Elaine

Do you like these bloody stains?

I do not like them sweet Elaine
I do not like these bloody stains

Should I slice her here or there?

Do not slice her here or there
Do not slice her anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Would you like her deep in dirt?
I’ve removed her bra and shirt

I do not want her deep in dirt
Please put on her bra and shirt
Do not slice her here or there
Do not slice her anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

This one’s so young and we could eat
Her kidneys such a tender treat

Not in the dirt
Not with a shirt
Not cut from there
Not anywhere
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Would you? Could you?
In a bar?
Eat them! Eat them!
Here they are.

I would not, could not, in a bar.

Would you? Could you?
In a car?

Not in a bar! Not in the car!
Not in the dirt? Where the hell is her shirt?
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine!

C’mon, my dear, you asked me to
And so I did this just for you.
I never was enough you see
But now I know you will love me.

I never asked, I never would.
Elaine you are not being good.
I do not want her in the dirt
Please put on her bra and shirt
Why did you slice her body there?
I cannot stand her vacant stare
I do not like these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine

Kill her fast! Kill her fast!
I did as told
It’s what you asked

Please drag her off these motel sheets
Get plastic, wrap her bloody feet
I taught you better sweet Elaine
I showed you how to hide the stains
And now you make more work for me?
I did not want this, don’t you see?
I did not want these bloody stains
I do not like them sweet Elaine
And now I’m left with just one choice
To draw my knife and raise my voice
From you, I wanted so much more
I like the way you hit the floor
Your blood, her blood all in a pool
You should have listened while in school
I kind of like these bloody stains
I just might miss you sweet Elaine

creep

A STORY PUBLISHED!!

You can find this story at Piker Press. Here is the website: http://www.pikerpress.com/ Please fee free to make comments on their page! It’s a great magazine!

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Confessor of Two Evils
by Patti Santucci (short, PG-13)

Image credit: Sand Pilarski.
Are your shivering movements heard? Your breath? Your pounding heart?
~~~

You hear a thud and hope it’s just the cat that knocked something over in the kitchen, that the sound wasn’t as ominous as you thought. You rationalize that it was probably part of a dream and ignore the tightening in your chest. You push away any fear and convince yourself the sound was just your imagination but the doubt lies under the covers with you like an unwelcome bedfellow, a daddy long leg crawling up your spine so lightly that it feels like hot, warning whispers moving the body hair on the back of your neck.
There is no mistaking the second thud and your head cocks slightly against the pillow before you sit straight up. Your heart is beating faster and harder, so hard that it tries to crawl up your throat and release itself in a non-human whimper. The second floorboard to the left of the hall, the one that always creaks, makes a sound. You know that sound. You’ve heard it a thousand times but you can’t even make out shadows. You curse yourself for buying those blackout curtains as your hand instinctively reaches for your husband, make that your ex-husband, who no longer shares your bed. You can almost hear Rick saying, “You’re the one who wanted the divorce. Miss me now?”
You inch out of bed feeling both ridiculous and terrified but certain that footsteps are coming closer and you know the cat is not heavy enough to trigger that creaking sound. You know that. You pull the covers back quietly and slide your feet to the floor folding off the edge of the bed and wriggle under, pulling the lace bedskirt back in place as you inch your way to the center. You pretend that the king-sized bed will protect you; that whoever’s out there will not have arms long enough to grab your ankles and rip you out.
You hold your breath and then exhale slowly and quietly into the carpet, scrunching your eyes shut and listening. You never stop listening. The footsteps are in your bedroom and your throat closes and in a matter of seconds you are thrust into one of those 20/20 crime stories you’ve watched on TV. You cover your mouth, trying to make your shallow breaths quieter, to stifle any uncontrollable screams but your hand is not your own anymore as it shakes beyond your control. No amount of willing it to stop will keep it still, and that leaves you paralyzed.
You can hear his breathing. The air under the bed has become thick, smelling like vomit and bile making it hard for you to breathe. He’s standing at the foot of the bed, his worn white tennis shoes violating the innocence of the lace and you ever so quietly try to draw your legs up praying you can somehow be made invisible.
And you wait.
You wait for him to peer under. You wait for his face, for his hands to grab you as you try to prepare to fight but you’re not sure if you’ll be able to move and you think of the last time you saw your mother and what her face will look like when she gets the news you’ve been murdered, too afraid to blink because in an instant, he will be upon you and you can’t tamp down the fear that winds around your windpipe.
You stare at the black smudge mark on his left shoe that mocks you from the slit between the carpet and the bedskirt and silently prohibit his feet from moving.
But his feet do move.
They move because your cell phone chimes in an email alert; the cell phone you charge across the room because you read somewhere that to leave it too close on the nightstand, next to your head, can cause cancer. You choke back vomit because you know now that he will find you. No one goes out without taking their cell phone. Your eyes search for a weapon but the only thing under your bed are some rolls of Christmas wrap and you suddenly have the bizarre notion that if you can just make out the image on the paper, he will go away. But it’s so dark, so damn dark, and panic is running up and down your body like a trapped, rabid wildcat trying to get out.
The drawers of your dresser are pulled out and you can hear the contents being dumped on the floor and know he’ll find all the cash you’ve squirreled away for the past year and a half. It’s right there with your underwear and you chastise yourself for entertaining the ludicrous thought that he’ll find the white envelope filled with hundreds and twenties and leave. Leave you under this bed. Untouched. Unbroken.
You hear the drawers drop to the ground, on the bed, another slammed against the wall, and the crash makes you recoil and unrelenting tremors rack your body and despite your efforts a tiny, audible sound spills from your lips. Regret hangs in the air and you try not to blink, certain the sound your eyelids will make will be deafening. You can no longer see his feet but the whoosh of his breathing is like a pillow over your face, a knee in your chest, a promise of violence to follow. Watery rattles echo in the room as he mumbles under his breath and sings “Hush Little Baby, Don’t You Cry” and you feel like he is singing to you. You know he knows where you are. You can feel it.
He inserts YOUR NAME into the chorus and you go cold instinctively trying to pull your legs up again but they smack the underside of the bed. You lie there, shake your head no and wait because while you internally beg your body to move, it won’t. He has control over your limbs, your breath.
You hear his footsteps travel down the hall, away from you, and you wonder if he is getting a knife from the kitchen. You have to make your move. YOU HAVE TO MOVE!
But you can’t.
You always thought you’d be the kind of person to perform under pressure but your body is frozen. Your teeth are chattering. Your heart, your breath, your body, your tears are not your own. You lie there, feeling your body convulse with terror and the world spins around you.
You have never been more alone.
The kitchen door slams and the silence feels false, a trick, and you begin to rock back and forth on your side in the fetal position, the only position that provides you any relief and you wait. No sound, just dead air. A stillness that feels alive. A reaper sitting in your bedroom chair smiling, waiting to greet you with a swing of his scythe.
Minutes? Hours? You’re not sure how long you wait for a floorboard to creak, a mucous filled breath, a sinister lullaby. Silence fills the room with too much air like a balloon just waiting to pop but you decide you have to crawl to your cell phone. You tell yourself he is gone. You beg God to keep you safe and immediately feel guilty because you know you never give God time of day until you’re in trouble. You promise to go to church.
Just keep me safe. Just keep me safe.
You inch out from under the bed slowly, your legs jelly, unable to help you move. You pull with your arms towards the spot where your phone is, feeling the carpet burn on your elbows and stomach, searching blindly.
Then you hear it. Another thud and some Other You enters your body and begins frantically searching, whimpering, crying and muttering. You find the charger cord and follow it only to discover the phone is gone. You hear the word, NOOOO, fly out of your mouth and you sound like a child as you begin to break apart, collapsing, losing.
You swallow back the vomit that threatens, succumbing to the crazy that takes hold. You crawl on all fours down the hall, rabid, a caged animal whose claws grip the carpet, whose teeth clip the air, whose hair and sweat cloud your vision, every shadow escalating your jangled body into a four-legged primal run. Vomit spews from your mouth but you don’t stop. Forcing your legs to rise, you turn the doorknob, gagging on the smell of your own liquid fear.
No time now. RUN you scream, commanding yourself. You don’t look to see if anyone is waiting. You run, your head down and leading, pretending some kind of invisible shield protects you from the violent blows, the meaty thrusts from hooked knives, the drilling bullets that might cleave fire through your organs, the clanging belt buckle sound that precedes a rape that could rip you in two, all of it, none of it, lurking in the darkness.
You run toward the light, clamor onto the porch, hoping someone will answer. You pummel the neighbor’s door. Out of your mouth come animal sounds of terror; screams and sobs. Noises you have never heard yourself make. Noises you have never heard anyone make. You plead eye contact with your neighbor as he cracks the door. Something inside you pushes him with a strength that nearly knocks him flat as you watch your body clamor to gain ground. Call the police, you think you scream a thousand times, feeling a relief that leaves you hugging your knees and thanking God for mercy.
* * *
I knew you’d be home. I’d been watchin’ you for months now workin’ your noon to eight shift at that hipster salon where you massage strangers with your whory little hands. Girls like you make me sick. Everybody loves that smile, that laugh, but try to get close to you, really get to know you and they’d discover, just like I did, what an icy bitch you really are. Jimmy thinks so too. I wanted to teach you a lesson about what it means to show a little every-goddamn-day kindness but Jimmy said to make it look like a robbery.
I can’t believe people around here are still hidin’ their house keys under pots, along door frames, inside those rocks made of plastic that wouldn’t even fool a shitfaced retard. A few robberies, some smashed car windows and the whole fuckin’ neighborhood goes on terrorist watch. You were the one actin’ all scared and shit at the Neighborhood Watch Meeting. What a joke. Let’s get all the neighbors together and, Can we have a show of hands? Who’s home during the day?
All me and Jimmy did was try and talk to you after the meetin’, invite you over to throw back a beer but you didn’t have the time. Gave us that look you pretty girls use to show how disgusted you are, like us breathin’ the same air as you makes your unsliced skin crawl.
When your phone went off, I wanted to laugh out loud. Pretty but stupid, like all the rest. I knew I could just bend down, grab your ankles and yank your skinny ass out from under your lace-covered slut sack, but I gotta say, Jimmy was right, it was much more fun listenin’ to you squirm under there.
Jimmy said to leave right away but I got a way of knowin’ these things. I could tell just from lookin’ at you. So I slammed the kitchen door shut but didn’t leave, sweetheart, and sure as shit, it didn’t take you long to come crawlin’ down that hall, nekkid. I’m right, every goddamn time! It’s like I’m psychic or shit! I told Jimmy, “That chick sleeps commando, perked up and ready for action.”
You didn’t see me walk out the door behind you, watch your sweet, taut flesh sway in the starlight. For a half a second it damn near hypnotized me like them bouncin’ sing-a-long balls on kid’s shows.
You ran right for it. I mean I wasn’t sure if it would work but, I’ll be damned if you didn’t follow the script just like Jimmy said you would.
So now you know darlin,’ what it’s like to be neighborly.
Like that old commercial, we left the light on for you.

Patti Santucci, author

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I sit here, avoiding raking the leaves that are choking my front yard, ignoring the end-of-the-year bookkeeping that is breathing down my neck, pretending not to notice the gym membership card that dangles from my key-chain pleading, for the love of God, to be used. I pile all of this in the back of my brain because today I need to write.

Last night, I officially became a published author. Two pieces are now loud and proud in the American River Review, a nationally award winning collegiate literary magazine.

Last night, I read one of my pieces before an audience.

It wasn’t so long ago, I was the woman who would cry before she had to meet clients because I was so nervous; the woman who would sweat and shake when I needed to ask a question in a flippin’ PTA meeting; the woman whose identity has always been defined by the existence of someone else: wife, mother.

And while those experiences,as well as both those titles, have given me great joy, last night, it was me they introduced. It is my  name on the stories in the glossy pages…pages that people actually pay to read.

I can spot them now. The ones who used to be like me.  They shake their heads and repeat their mantra of, “Oh, gosh. I could never do that.” Their internal whipping post vacillates between quietly nudging them as an annoying reminder and violently slamming them as a stabbing truth that they will never be good enough.

I want to tell them to be bold and fly. I want to tell them that everyone is scared. I want to tell them that people will forget about them five minutes after they leave. I want to tell them to shine their colors as brightly as they can because even if they are forgotten, for one moment, they gave someone a rainbow, a reason to smile, a thought to ponder. I want to tell them that even if they make a mistake, even if they screw up, it will never be as embarrassing as they think (the blessing of the five minute rule).

All that fear that we keep bottled up inside is just a thief stealing moments not realized.

Live out loud. Go forth and conquer. Live every positive cliche without excuses. Love yourself for who you are because I’m telling you, the feeling is unbelievably awesome.

 

 

Double Digits

“Yea, I can come!” Brittney said. “This is going to be so much frickin’ fun!”

I held my cell phone tight to my right ear as we talked, dangling my feet over the edge of the dock, feeling the cool water lick my ankles. Tomorrow will be my 10th birthday, a biggie by anyone’s measure. Brittney and I talked about the huge sheet cake my mom was getting and I confided in her that I had over sixty balloons to fill, the big surprise for the end of the party. We talked about who was invited, who was coming and who was getting nailed with the most water balloons.

“I bet Robbie throws all his balloons at you!” she said.

Brittney and I had talked long and hard about Robbie. His dark eyes, his cool clothes and the way he could make milk squirt out his nose and, at the same time, play what sounded like “Who Let the Dogs Out” with his arm pit.

Robbie wasn’t from around here. He had come here from California which is 2,160 miles from Peshtigo, Wisconsin.

I looked it up, twice.

I watched four cranes take off from the weed bed across the river and asked, “I wonder if he was ever in the movies?”

“Probably,” she said.  “He is from California.”

“Chloe! Your dad’s home!” my mother’s voice rang across the river. I didn’t even have to turn around to know she was standing there, in her apron that said “Kiss the Cook” while she held the screen door open, waiting for me to get in the house.

“Gotta go. My dad’s home,” I said into the phone and clicked the End button.

“Coming!” I yelled back, holding my phone with one hand and scooping up some river water with the other, dabbing the back of my neck, as I ran toward the house.

I was glad to have Dad home now. He had lived somewhere else for a while. Mom stopped wearing perfume and spent a lot of time in her room when he was gone. Now, he comes home everyday from work around lunch time and, since its summer and I don’t have school, we all get to sit down and eat fried chicken or steak and sometimes he even brings home a pizza, the expensive kind from the Palm Tree Pizza Company.

“What’s up ChloeChloeDavidBowie?” my dad said as he picked me up and swung me around the kitchen. I was, I thought, a little old for that but I liked it anyway. He says David Bowie and me are gifts from God, music to his ears he always says.

Mom sat the meatloaf in the center of the table and said, “Tomorrow is the big day, huh Chloe?”

“Whatcha got going on?” Dad asked.

Trying to keep my face from frowning, I looked at my Mom and she said, “Bruce, don’t be mean. You know its Chloe’s birthday tomorrow!” I watched as she rubbed his left shoulder.

“Hah! Got ya!” Dad said to me. “You think I would forget double digits?” He paused. “Remember that magician you told me about? The one that Jordan had at her party?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling all tingly inside.

“Well I talked with him, worked my magic a bit and he’s coming to the party! He has a bunch of new tricks. Of course, he’ll do a few of the good ones he did at Jordan’s party too but he’s been working on some brand new, never seen before, super cool ones!”

“Are you kidding?” I screamed and looked at mom who smiled at me but I could tell it was a surprise to her too. “Oh my God, this is the best present ever!”  I ran over and gave Dad a big hug. His face got all red and he smiled making his dimples show and I poked my fingers in them like I used to do when I was a little girl.

Somehow I managed to sit through lunch and eat what was on my plate but Mom could tell I was antsy and wanted to call Brittney back.

“Go ahead,” she laughed and excused me from the table.

I called Brittney right away. Jordan always had the nicest parties and now mine was going to be even better. Water balloons AND a magician! I called everyone who’d been invited saving Robbie for last.

“Hello.” Robbie said, his voice sounding like cotton candy and root beer.

“Guess what Robbie? I’m going to have a magician at my party tomorrow. It’s gonna be awesome! You’re still coming right?”

“Yea. I got you a present. My mom’s gonna drop me off at eleven.”

My heart stopped. I hadn’t even thought about what he would get me for a present. Robbie is getting me a present. I let that just sit in my head and that tingly feeling was back full blast as I spelled out Robbie + Chloe with a stick in the dirt.

“Super!” I said grasping for something, anything to say as this weird silence hung in the air. “I gotta go. I’ll see you tomorrow!”

See you tomorrow? That’s the best I could come up with?

“Okay. Talk to you later.”

I said bye not wanting to but, let’s face it, there was nothing else left to say.

I hung up the phone, danced, twirled  and spent the rest of the day picking daisies and pulling the petals off in that “He loves me, he loves me not” game. I imagined what our house would look like and how many kids Robbie and I would have, that is until I realized I had nothing to wear.

At first, I was going to wear my yellow shorts with my Harry Styles T-shirt and my sneakers but after talking with Robbie, I decided on my dark blue sundress.  I knew I would be able to dodge all of Robbie’s water balloons if I wore my sneakers but, really, did I want to let him miss me every time? Besides, a dress would be prettier and all the magazine covers say dark colors are slimming.

Dad came home and we had supper and watched TV while Mom finished up a baby blanket for my new cousin, Oscar. Nothing exciting about the evening but I couldn’t sleep. I had put my hair in curlers and didn’t want them to fall out so I tried to lay real still but that just made my head itch and when I tried to think about something else to forget about the itching, I came right back to Robbie and my party.

Mom and I got up really early and strung yellow and purple streamers she’d bought at Dollar General in all the trees so they hung mid-air over the table and then dangled balloons from some of the branches. Next, we strung up the huge banner we made. Yesterday, Mom and I had spent hours cutting out the letters, gluing them to the construction squares and decorating them with silver glitter. Mom brought out the One Direction tablecloth, paper plates, cups AND napkins and laid everything out on our picnic table. By myself, I dragged some palettes over and made a stage for the magician and then cut out little red construction paper triangles to trim the edges. We had some silver confetti left over and my mom was going to sprinkle it on the table but I asked her if I could put some on the stage and use the rest to throw up in the air when we announced the magician. She didn’t answer right away but then agreed after thinking it over.

We stood back and stared at all the decorations, the giant pink box that held the huge chocolate fudge cake in the center of the table, the streamers, the balloons, the stage. It was all just perfect!

The first car pulled up and Brittney jumped out with a big pink and yellow present for me. She stopped just before reaching us to look at the decorations. She looked at me and squealed, “It’s frickin’ beautiful!!”

I knew as soon as it was out of her mouth, our day was doomed. Brittney’s mom hated, and I mean hated, the word frickin’.

“Brittney Lynn,” her Mom said sternly from the car.

“Sorry,” Brittney said, standing very still.

Our moms looked at each other and smiled and Brittney and I both knew that it was with an “aren’t-these-kids-cute-heavy-sigh” kind of smile and not an “embarrassed-you’ll-be-in-trouble-later” kind of smile.

Everyone showed up. Carol, Jodie, Kylie, Jordan, Madison, Joey (‘cuz my mom said Robbie shouldn’t be the only boy) and, the last one to arrive:  Robbie. He smiled at me when he handed me my present and I think he said he liked my dress but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to ask him to repeat himself but I think I said thank you before he walked over to the picnic table. My head was swimming.

We played Charades, ate hamburgers and then my mom said everyone could go swimming in the river. I was so surprised when everybody peeled off their clothes and had their swimsuits on underneath.

“Surprise!” mom said. “I knew it was going to be hot today so I called everyone and told them to bring their suits. Hope you don’t mind.”

“Mind?” I said. “That’s frickin’ awesome!”

She just laughed and shook her head.

All of us took turns jumping off the pier doing our best cannonballs and measuring who had the biggest splash. Robbie could do backflips off the edge like an Olympic gymnast. He said it was easy and that he could teach me how.

“Cake and ice cream, anyone?” Mom yelled and that caught everyone’s attention. It felt like I floated from the river back up to the picnic table.

Mom started to light the candles and it dawned on me. “Where’s Dad?”

“He had to work but he should be here soon,” she said and then began singing “Happy Birthday”. Everyone joined in and I made a wish that Robbie would teach me how to do backflips. I blew out all the candles in one breath so I know that wish will come true.

Mom started slicing the cake and handing out pieces. She came to the corner piece that had the most frosting and I quietly reminded her to give that piece to Robbie.

She winked at me and we watched Robbie’s eyes light up.

“Thanks Mrs. Stewart. Frosting’s my favorite part!”

Mom kicked me under the table and we both tried hard not to smile.

After cake, we broke out the water balloons. Mom and I had spent forever filling each one and had piled them in two baskets. I watched as she struggled to get them all to the safe spot we had agreed upon.

“Now there are enough balloons for each of you to use six, so use them wisely. The battle field is just beyond those two birch trees and all the way down to the riverbed. Throwing any balloons within the safe zone will get you disqualified so wait until you clear the trees. Look around out there, there are lots of places to hide.” Mom clicked on the portable CD player and the theme to the Hunger Games began. She cleared her throat and in her best Claudius Templesmith voice said, “Let the games begin and may the odds be forever in your favor.”

We all ran toward the baskets. Some of us grabbed two balloons at once; others took only one and then sprinted off to find a good hiding spot. I watched which way Robbie went and followed through the trees.

“Arghhhh!” Madison was the first one hit and she ran back for a second balloon.

I hid behind some bushes and tried not to make any noise. I heard Robbie laugh and Jordan cry out, “You butthead!”

Robbie joined me by the bushes and said, “I just got Jordan!”

We looked at each other and smiled.

The theme music continued to play in the distance, the sound of water exploding followed by laughter played in the air. Robbie took off again, with his second water balloon in tow, looking for his next victim. I followed, nailing Kylie in the back.

I threw my other balloon at Joey and missed and then noticed something strange. Robbie was hiding, holding his balloon and not throwing it even though Joey and Brittney were in the open. Jordan returned with her balloon and hid behind a tree. Robbie caught sight of her, snaked around the back and threw the balloon on the back of her legs.

“You…” Jordan yelled and started chasing Robbie.

As my grandma always says, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” I knew what this all meant and sure enough, Robbie used almost all of the rest of his balloons on Jordan.

I ran back and got the rest of mine and quietly pierced them behind a tree.

Mom called game time and everyone crept out of their hiding places soaking wet.

“Wow Chloe!” Robbie said. “You’re good at this game. You didn’t even get hit!”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Robbie, look at my hair,” Jordan said. Her long brown hair was wet and she had piled it high on her head. Strands started to fall and I realized then that I had never noticed how pretty Jordan is.  Everybody laughed as she grabbed a particularly wet strand and made believe she had a beard.

My dad’s red pickup pulled fast into our yard, kicking up dirt, making a big announcement; at least now the magician was here. We all turned as my dad’s car door flung open, each of us holding our breath just waiting for the guy in the tuxedo to get out of the passenger’s side. Instead, my dad folded out of the truck in slow motion. I watched as he weaved toward us. The closer he got, the tighter the knot in my stomach got. I tried to stop my face from reddening. I tried to stop my eyes from tearing but I knew what all this meant.

“ChloeChloeDavidBowie,” he yelled slurring his words and catching his foot on an overgrown tree branch.

“Who’s David Blowie?” I heard Jordan whisper to Robbie.

“Hey kids! The magician sends his apologies. He got sick and is unable to attend this fine, fine party.” He threw his arm out in a grand gesture and burped loudly, then mumbled, “A’scuse me.”

Please, please stop talking. Mom shot me that one look that I had long forgotten about. She walked over to him, put her arm around him and said, “Hey, you hungry honey? All the kids wanted to save you the biggest piece of birthday cake. Let’s go inside and find you something to eat.” It was the same kind of voice she used when my last dentist appointment was over and she was trying to get me out of there before I started crying.

“Really?” Dad said, the slurring getting worse; his legs turning to rubber. “You kids are the breast. I mean the best.” He covered his mouth with his hand, laughed way too hard and said, “My bad,” drawing his leg in like a bashful schoolgirl. He winked, snapped his fingers and pointed at me, “Double digits! Par-tay!”

Mom ushered him inside and everyone stood staring at me. I wanted to run, to hide, but then there had been Mom’s look, that look that said: This is the last time, I promise.  I wanted to disappear, to melt, to fade away but I just stood there. Brittney clapped her hands and said, “We have presents to open,” in that happy voice she uses when she feels like crying.

Brittney handed me presents and I opened them and hoped that I looked happy. I just kept picking up a present, unwrapping it, thanking everyone and going on to the next one. My mom came back out and “oohed” and “aaahed” each time I pulled the paper away as she handed out popsicles. Mom said, “Happy Birthday” and raised hers in the air. Everyone at the table raised theirs too and then pretended they were wine glasses and clinked their popsicles together like a big toast as if we were grown ups at a dinner party. The heat began melting them before everyone could finish and drips of purple and red ran down their arms which made me feel like crying again.

Parents started pulling up and it was a good thing as no one was really having a good time anymore. One by one, my guests disappeared until only Brittney was left. Mom gave me a long hug, kissed the top of my head, and went back in the house without a word, just a long exhale as she wiped her hands on the back of her jeans.

Brittney and I went down to the pier where just less then an hour ago, Robbie had told me he would teach me how to do a backflip. I didn’t really feel like talking but that’s the thing about best friends. They just seem to know and can stay quiet with you so you aren’t alone.

We sat there until a summer rain began to fall. The rain came hard and fast but we didn’t budge. Mom didn’t come out to check on us. I knew she was trying to get Dad onto the couch so he would just fall asleep in front of the television set. She was probably laying that ugly brown and yellow blanket over him and placing that big silver barf bowl next to him and when I went inside to get my sleepover stuff, she would probably mumble something about him not feeling well. Whatever.

I mean, I’m a little old for that.

The rain stopped just as quickly as it had started leaving the air super muggy, heavy and tight like last year’s Christmas sweater.

“You okay?” Brittney asked.

“Yea,” I said, just staring down watching the water bury my feet making my toes disappear, wishing the rest of me could too. “Do you think I could spend the night?”

“You know you can. My mom said anytime was fine with her.”

“Thanks.”

The laughter and play that had filled up the river was long gone and now a stillness just sat next to us, the occasional click of a snapping turtle the only noise breaking the silence.

“Hey look,” said Brittney, “a rainbow.”

It was one of those big, beautiful rainbows that fill the sky and reflect off the water and we studied it for a long time without talking.

“Do you think the other side of a rainbow, the side no one can see, is dark and gloomy?” I asked.

“No way. It’s colorful no matter which way you look at it,” she said quietly trying to meet my eyes and then added brightly, “My mom says it’s the reward for making it through the storm!”

I smiled back but knew that was only true for some people.

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Writer’s Workshop

whatifI drove home in silence with my brain full of learning, learning how to avoid adverbs, how to create distance or focus, how to re-arrange, tighten, pull back, learning ways to get the reader to willingly crawl inside the skin of a character and feel. The workshop introduced me to people I would otherwise never meet, worlds I will undoubtedly never physically see, and witness ways that authors can make the mundane, inspirational and the unreachable, the larger than life moments that only a chosen few are brave enough, lucky enough or unfortunate enough to be immersed in, seem so small, so human, so approachable, so unintimidating and so like me.

I am grateful for the folks who put events like this together. Not just for the technical knowledge we learn, not just for the comfort we get from those who struggle with the written word, not just for the friendships that develop but because what I see in the classrooms, the boardrooms, the lecture halls is a small fire. And for some of us it is so hard to keep that fire going, that dream alive. But days like this someone comes along and offers some kindling, some tools, some feedback, some hope and I begin to feel, once again, like I have something to contribute, that maybe the dream isn’t frivolous, that the “what if” is out there and maybe, just maybe, it is out there waiting for me.

The Day the World Stopped

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You can feel his eyes trying to reach yours, to hold your gaze, but the last thing you want to do is look up because you know if you do, the sucker punch he will deliver will not just break you but shatter every inch of your already drained and fragile soul.
You think about the first time you met Rick. The way you immediately fell in love with this unique, shared, instantaneous, logic-defying connection that affectionately embraced you every time he smiled. His easy laugh that melted trouble. Those warm hugs that, throughout the years, never ceased to give you comfort. Two babies and twenty-three years later, hundreds of bedroom romps and kitchen table arguments later, roller coasters of feelings that waxed and waned later, you find yourself here. No one warned you it could be like this and the more you think about it, the more you find it harder to breathe.
Finally, you raise your head and meet his eyes but there seems to only be part of you alive. While on some level, you are dimly aware of a flurry of activity, of green scrubs and white orthopedic rubber-soled clogs racing by, of beepers rushing frantic pleas to perched ears, of a steel on steel whisk as curtains are thrown back, of clipboards and rubber fob watches, of nametags and stethoscopes, of regular people drawing their hands up to pained faces in slow motion and spilling a kind of sadness that makes others recoil, the only thing that pierces through all this fog and holds your attention are his lips moving. You barely feel the whisper of his rehearsed, yet gentle, touch to your right elbow. You glance at the surgical mask that hangs like a punctured balloon from his neck and you note the way his shoulders now sag in defeat as if losing all of your hope had physically shortened him six inches.
There you stand, not sure which way your mind is going to go because control is no longer in your vocabulary or capacity. You watch as his head imperceptively shakes back and forth in slow motion. Just yesterday, you were arguing with Rick over the toothpaste cap. The toothpaste cap. Last night you went to bed mad and it all started with the damn toothpaste cap. And now, all the images crawl inside your heart. Rick playing “airplane” with Ricky Jr. Rick teaching Sara, at sixteen, how to check the oil in her first car. Rick, leaning against the frame of the bedroom door, smiling, and you remember how his look made you feel sexy despite the wrinkles, the grey roots and the extra pounds that the years had gifted you. You can almost hear the way he used to say in that sexy, smooth-honey, southern drawl, “How’s my Baby doin? You wanna….”
But the man’s lips keep moving and his voice interrupts and cuts through your thoughts like a guillotine as the sporadic words like, “I’m sorry” and “nothing more we could do” slam against you, a relentless tsunami, and that is when you become aware that you are drowning and your ability to make it all stop is not, nor will it ever be, within your reach again. You think you are falling but you can’t be because no one else is reacting so you stand there….silently sinking until the man’s words build walls around you, boxing you in, keeping you frozen.
The man slowly guides you to a chair and this very cruel part of you no longer lets you have even moments when you are numb or distant or sheltered. His demolishing words, the sad sideway glances from strangers who dare to make eye contact, the suffocating swarm of antiseptic combined with body odor and fear, the futile offering of a small glass of water come straight at you like rapid fire knives and make it harder and harder to breathe and the only thing you want to do is claw your way out of this moment. But you know there is no way out, no other side, no where to hide or run or scream. This box you’re in is now your permanent home and that thought is so overwhelming, so desperately devastating that you just let the walls envelope you, chew on you, crush you, and hope that they can erase you.
He sits next to you and watches you breathe, hands you a Kleenex for tears you didn’t even know were there, places his hand on your back to calm this heaving body that no longer feels like your own. You are in quicksand, all the way under, and while the man tries to comfort you, he is miles above the surface and so very far away.

You are all alone now.

“Mrs. Jennings, do you want…see the body….a chapel on the first floor….is someone here to drive you home….I’m so sorry for your loss…”

Is this happening?

You mumble thank you and stare at the used, torn Kleenex wadded up inside the palm of your hand that won’t stop shaking and absently ask in a small, lost, child’s voice you have not heard for decades, “Who will put the toothpaste cap back on now?”