These stories are inspired by the 100 Days project film clips of John Timmons’ (corresponding clips are linked below each title) and each is in response to his own daily piece or that of one of the other participants.
#10 OUT FOR A WALK
The spring day billows with freshly washed clouds. The light wind blows them in from the west, bouncing and running like children let out at recess. It is a perfect day to be outside. I want to feel the warm sun, walk the path that leads down to the river, past the fence that grows like a row of corn. I want to play the game. Winter months have itched me into a trance and the short days had pushed me like a two-minute carnival ride while I huddled under a lap-robe. My spirit and mind swathed into muffled murmuring between time spent with oatmeal and chicken soup and turkey meatloafed meals where carrot cubes were counted as days.
It’s windy, colder than it looked to be. The evil sun, the heart of all human nature, lies when peeking through a window. Glass isn’t clear, you know, but an illusion. Just as mirrors fool you into believing that you’re in a place where you are laughing, happy. Where the light kindly falls on unworried faces and eyes catch it like gemstones.
I should have gotten dressed. I should have asked for long pants and a jacket but then they would have known too soon that I was going to play again, run free, hide away from cups of pills and other keyless locks.
The wind is blowing now with the force of turbines, prickling me with seeds spawned in the lying sun as it snuck away for a moment to touch the daffodils and pull their heads out from the earth until they gasped in open-mouthed yellow screams.
The wind slices at me, howling up from the river I would guess, because I smell the carp and big box turtle on its breath. I hold out my arms and catch a gust that lifts me, soars me just above the fence and over trees that tickle like feathers on my feet. The river up ahead appears like a fat green worm, covered with the yellow dust of flower buds hoping to grow up into pudgy red apples and pink-blushed pears.
I see the town that lies in safety from our walls. Beyond the river banks, beyond the reach of nightmares vocalized because they never stop. I’m flying faster now, into the wind as if borne on an arrow-tip aimed at its mark. I spread my arms out, sorry now I haven’t worn a sweater, my nightgown no match for the cool morning air. My right arm, then my left, are torn away and streak like dashes behind my statement. I point my chin up into the wind. I am Superman.
Far below I see Anne Righteous in her blue bathrobe putting out trash, her hair a copper splash painted by sun. That’s not her real name, just what I call her. She pauses, looks around, doesn’t see me because she doesn’t know enough to look up. She never did. My left leg rips off and I hope it doesn’t hit her but I giggle to imagine her reaction if it drops right there in a big splash of toes. Maybe in front of her doorsill as she’s about to take the stairs, or in her garden that borders the walk, pierced by thorns of her prize rose “Peace” and catching there, bleeds red down its long stems to the earth.
I am a hawk without wings, graceful and quiet. The church bells sing just below me, fighting for space with the beeping horns, radios blaring a new saccharined cure for depression. Merchants unfurl their banners. Workers park layered in lots. But the people are silently walking like wraiths unseen by each other. “Don’t talk to strangers,” I say and I laugh, because each one of us is stranger than another. My right leg pulls at me, strains like a child refusing to budge from the candy aisle. I flick it away, lighter now, free to spiral and glide a hole through the sky like a bullet.
There it is, my house, the roof a-flap with shingles that have outlived their warranty. A thin thread of smoke curls from the chimney like a cigarette left by the sink. That isn’t what happened; it’s just what they wrote in the report.
I shiver and separate, break apart at the waist like a space capsule circling earth, my bottom half floating away as if in stop and go motion. I slow down, get low down enough to peer in the windows, looking for someone, a husband, a child. Then I remember that Jack will be working and the children will already be in school. But where is the cat?
The living room is dark, the curtains pulled back, yet the light seems to stop at the windows. The kitchen has been redone after the fire, the walls a pale gold like the last rays of sun. My dishes displayed as they were but oddly bleached white.
I wonder what they’ll tell Jack. I wonder if they’ll find all my pieces and solemnly, like a priest distributing communion wafers, give them back to him with some small mumbled blessing he can accept. I wonder if he’ll try to put them all together again in his mind. I wonder if he, or maybe Billy, who loves to climb trees, will someday find me here watching them through the window from the elm just outside of our bedroom.
#9 THE DOOR
The first night it came in the guise of a friend. Alyce let it in because she couldn’t have known. They shared dinner and wine and relaxed to the unwinding sound of an old 100 Strings recording that Alyce had taped from a 33 rpm record of her mother’s then again to CD. Alyce had eaten way too much and they’d downed three bottles of wine. When it left, Alyce closed and locked the door and didn’t realize till the next one appeared that the friend was a phantom of memory.
She lived in the city in a tall skinny brownstone that wore mascara of green striped awnings and bright pink impatiens on its first floor windows. Its grin was wrought iron curled into ivy and its steps were old lady veined marble. But the huge carved walnut door stood solemn guard as if in a long ago palace. Alyce reigned inside as well, with Battenburg laces beneath rose floral drapes and a red velvet couch that sat like a dowager queen on a genuine wool Persian rug.
It was a look of old opulence in contrast with Alyce herself who was twenty-seven and worked as a data entry clerk at Neiman’s. She had honey-blonde hair and was rounded in all the right places. She had perfect white teeth and a little girl smile and inside she was wallpapered with cancer.
Alyce sprang up from the red velvet throne at the blare of a trumpeting doorbell one night and found an old man at her door. “Yes?” Alyce asked and the man simply held out his hand. The creases were lined in an ashy brown map and he looked up and grinned with a picket fence smile. “Sorry,” she said and closed the door quickly and almost as quickly opened it wide. “Wait!” she called, for the man had reached the sidewalk. “Here,” and she held out a five dollar bill.
“Damn!” Alyce said the next day as she stumbled downstairs to see who would be waking her so early on a Saturday morning. She flung open the door and growled, “What do you want?” just as the hall clock chimed nine. “I’m so sorry,” she said to the little green girls and paid for three boxes of Thin Mints. “See that old lady over there,” she pointed, “give them to her.”
Inevitably, Alyce started feeling the tentacles that possessed her inside. She lay on the couch one evening, thinking of rocks of all things. Just about then there was a knock on her door. “What the?” she said and struggled up to answer it.
On her stoop was a dapper, thirty-ish man dressed in black tie and tails. With a swoop he removed his hat in a deep bow. “We have a date,” the man said with a warm friendly smile but the cold evening air swirled around him.
“I’m not ready,” she said, for she knew him even though she did not. “One last time?” she said both as question and hopeful anticipation. His eyes lit up like the dusk’s early stars and he followed her in and closed the big door behind him.
#8 BLACK BEARS AND GREEN BROCCOLI TREES
He comes back to me in dreams, a black bear that is soft as storm clouds in the distance and thunder that rumbles not roars. In dreams I say the right thing. I am eloquent and nurturing. The words flow like a pipeline from my heart. I am good. I am caring. There are children who play in the foamy spray of the ocean, who build castles of sand that I protect with my life. I don’t know whose children they are, but I think one has his eyes and my hesitant smile.
In dreams I am clever and witty at parties that go on forever in living rooms bigger than furniture stores and kitchens with Spanish tile flooring and freezers set up like closets down a hallway lighted by stars. I bake pies glowing with still sun-warm berries and cakes that self-frost with ice cream.
There are crowds that stream laughter and the low hum of talk. Now and then I catch him through the people who part like curtains drawn away from a window to see who is there and he beams between them like sunlight shining in through green broccoli trees.
My dreams are loud, my dreams are vibrant with colors that flash like pinwheels yet somehow all match and in daytime I’ve tried to paint with the life I see there but it dribbles in gray streaks on the walls. The new starts, fresh beginnings I grab in my fist turn to glass shards that cut through my fingers and bleed with the first flutter of eyelids at dawn.
In dreams I don’t sleep and in dreams, I don’t have to wake up.
(First publication rights to Black Bears and Green Broccoli Trees belong to Pure Slush, 12/07/10)
#7 SOME PEOPLE, AND THEN THERE ARE OTHERS
“Some people,” Joseph muttered, “some people think they own the whole friggin’ world.” In spite of this quasi-belief, he scraped into his spot in the parking lot, leaving his mark like a tomcat. He opened his car door louder than normal with an oblivion as he imagined the other half would. It dinged and dented a chocolate Porsche that had been innocently asleep, unaware of its tire over the white line.
Joseph was forty-seven years old, grey and hunched not from time but from worry and anger. If he stepped into life he had two alternative behaviors: anxiety about fitting in or resentment because there was never a hole in the wall large enough to slip through without damage to some part of him that he didn’t know how to fix.
It was a hot day. The pavement threatened to melt on his feet. He had a long walk from his single assigned spot to his own door though he passed rows of cars on the way. He wasn’t pissed about this any longer though it took him three years to get over it.
He slowed down and stuck his folded brown lunch bag in his pocket three condos before he reached his. It was Melissa’s place. She lived there with a large longhaired white cat named Baby. Joseph hated the cat. It sat in the front window and laughed at him whenever he went by. Her door swung open and there was Melissa, with hair the color of lemonade, tanzanite eyes, and a body brushed into perfection by some talented god.
He looked down; she hadn’t seen him. He counted three steps and looked up and looked down because she still hadn’t noticed him there, busy pulling her mail. He looked up and she was just turning away but her eyes were too late to avoid him.
“H-h-hi Melissa,” he said and stopped. He waved though she was only fifteen feet away. He wiped the hair off his forehead and twisted his scowl into a grin.
She nodded and went inside, closing the door quickly behind her. Joseph thought she had smiled. That would be a good thing. It would mean that she’d forgiven his overly dramatic reaction to her turning him down for a date. It had been right after Christmas. She had wished him a Merry Christmas when he’d helped her clean snow off her car. Later that night he’d knocked on her door with a greeting card and she invited him in. She shared a cup of hot chocolate she’d been making and he even petted the cat so he could sit down on her couch. Then he asked her out and kept on coming up with new nights as fast as she came up with excuses until she said she just didn’t want to and he yelled out his life’s miseries as if she were to blame for them all and then the cat scratched at his leg like a clawing post and he left.
Joseph’s heart bounced in his chest instead of its usual grumpy thumping; there was hope. She had–he was sure of it now–smiled. He couldn’t sleep for dreaming that night, imagining places he would take her for dinner, places he couldn’t afford but would have to find money somewhere. He’d bring her roses and they’d talk about books and movies they’d watch on TV. He drifted to sleep as he was deciding what color they’d repaint her kitchen and just how he would kill the cat.
#6 WAITING OUTSIDE THE PACKAGE STORE
Oh, I musta fell asleep. The car stopped. “Ma?”
The child strains against the seatbelt to see if she is there. He thinks maybe she’s just hiding. Again, “Ma?” He sees the wooden fence in front, the white square with letters. It looks familiar. He looks out the side window, leaning up as far as he can and stretching his neck to see as much as he can see. The parking lot is empty except for one other car. He knows there’s only one and that with their one car that makes two. Two cars. The car he sees is red.
It’s raining, big wet blops he hears and watches as the wipers mop them up and they can’t run fast enough to get away. He wonders again if his mommy’s hiding. He remembers now. He remembers the clink of bottles and rustle of brown bags when she comes back and opens up the back door where he is and smiles and puts the clinking somewhere beneath his feet. She does that every time they stop here. Sometimes she’ll reach in and pull out a bottle and smile at him and take a sip. She never lets him though. She says something like, “No, sweetie, this is only for grownups,” and she’ll laugh and scrounge around and find the bottle that he dropped and hand it to him. He’ll drink too then. Just like a grownup.
He wants her to come back. His eyes keep closing and he’s afraid he’ll fall back to sleep and miss her. The wipers vwump! vwump! vwump! He fights to stay awake. Ma? The car is moving. They must be going home. It smells different. He rubs his eyes and looks up at the mirror. He doesn’t know the man. It’s raining. It isn’t Ma.
#5 IN THE EYE
The way Louis saw it, if you unraveled the party back to the beginning, back to before the guests arrived, even further, back to where Marcella made out the list to send him out shopping, then the event might not have turned out so spectacularly successful.
The new painting was the focus of their latest difference of opinion. To a small group of friends, she’d tittered with champagne giggles, “Oh, Louis marches to the beat of a different drum.” She looked expressively across the room, steadied him in her sights, blinked slowly in a carefully crafted loving manner. Hours earlier, standing in the same spot in the room minus party guests, she’d said, “You’re an ass.”
“You can’t hang it upside-down!” she’d argued.
“I like it that way,” he’d said.
“That’s ridiculous. Are you doing this just to upset me?”
“No, dear. Look at it, the reflections of the trees and the clouds in the water, it’s more interesting this way.”
“With the fishing boat in the sky?”
“It’s transcendental. It’s the dream of the fisherman’s soul.”
“No, it’s great! It provokes deep emotions. It inspires thought.”
“It’s fucking upside-down!”
At this point Marcella lurched toward the wall but Louis blocked her approach. He quickly folded the stepladder and turned to admire the painting. She huffed off to the kitchen. He left to pick up her last minute grocery list shopping and took the stepladder with him.
She thawed with the first ring of the doorbell and nobody later could say that they noted anything wrong, any tension between them. The couple waved goodbyes framed in their doorway with their arms around each other and smiling. The arguments in the cars on the diverse paths home were evenly split between the spiritual and the more down to earth view that indeed, the painting was hung upside-down.
He’ll change. He’ll change. He’ll change. He’ll see what he’s done and he’ll really be sorry for Friday night whiskey and cock-rooster words. I can’t see but I feel him there, just inside the door of this room. Whispers, whispers that don’t rise above the beeps and hum of this night.
Closer, quiet, he stands there just out of reach. I feel him there, towering over me…is he going to…? Wait, no, I don’t sense the tornado, the touch-down of black swirling anger. He sees it, I know; he went too far this time. This time he ran to the edge and I fell floating away from his hand and up like a summer’s day kite. I feel white sheets and pillows like soft puffy clouds. I feel clean blue sky and cool lemon sun. I smell fields of lilies, strong and burning the air with perfume.
He’s just a shadow now, blocking the light, the cool shade above me. A drop of rain. Then, finally, his last words that I’ve waited to hear. That tell me everything has changed. Sorry, babe, I’m so sorry.
She looked up, out the moon-roof he’d insisted their new car must have and she hated; the hot sun only gave her a headache. Out the windshield, where the car gobbled up the licorice whip road. Out the passenger window where trees stumbled over bushes and fields in the blur of a marathon run. Moving, moving, he was always moving while she felt herself standing still, watching him and everyone else racing by in a whoosh of cold air.
She twisted the cap off a bottle of water–the fancy water he liked–and held it out to what she guessed was the edge of his peripheral vision, not distracting, just within sight. “Want some?” she asked.
“What?” he said and turned to look. “Yeah,” he said and took it. She watched his profile outlined against the green leaves flying by, his head thrown back to a point where he could drink yet still see the road. His Adam’s apple hopped with each gulp. He needed a haircut.
“That’s what I have to do yet today,” she said. She heard him snicker, knew he was shaking his head. “Cut your hair,” she added.
He’d turned the radio off when the distance had turned it to static. She had been afraid of pushing the buttons. Knew she’d forgotten to bring the CDs. Still, a rhythm hummed underneath them. Telephone poles set close to the road chopped the air into a beat.
She stretched her arms out in her lap, took a glance at her watch. Waited, counting the whuff of each pole until she reached one hundred. “How much longer yet?” she asked.
He huffed out a response. Then, “I have no fucking idea. Why? You bored already?”
“No, I was just wondering,” she said. “More water?”
She opened her mouth to say something, took a sip of his water instead. She looked out the side window, heard the hum of the road, felt the flash of the sun between overhead branches, watched the trees running by.
I draw eyes that swim like angelfish with their tails black and feathered, their bodies seawater blue. My lips I paint with a bold rosy red, outline the pout with deep ruby. Blush to create higher cheekbones. Charcoal to follow the tweezed arches over my eyes, like the double doors of a church.
My big sister Carmine showed me how to use makeup. I was fourteen. Slow and shy–not like Carmine; Carmine was all that I wanted to be. Brashy beautiful and free as the bounce of her unharnessed breasts. She gave me her dresses, the ones she’d outgrown when she grew pudgy with baby. She lost it at five months, just when she started to show enough that my father beat her oblivious. He threw her out of the house and she had the dead baby that night in the alley. I helped her hide in the basement. Washed her up and got rid of what had come out of her. It looked like a seahorse, curled and flippered. Or maybe that’s what I needed to pretend it to be.
She left home but she’d call me sometimes, beg me to come live with her. Afraid of what was inevitable. I told her I was all right.
I pull on pantyhouse, a bra that I still need to stuff with tissues to round myself out. Big silver hoops clip to my ears. Black high heeled slippers with straps at the ankle. And Carmine’s favorite aqua blue voile. I swirl like the sea. I look into the eyes in the mirror. The fish swim and their gills blink and flutter like sunlight through stained glass. I must hurry; Pop comes home soon. I pull the wallet from the back pocket of my jeans that lay in a leaping run on the floor, find the license that doesn’t show my real name, my real sex and age, and slip it into my purse.
One more glance at the mirror. Carmine is right; I believe truth is inevitable.
I stumble through the past of our apartment, wondering and hating the present of it now, the empty spaces where you should be. Light slants in through windows shouting dawn in gloomy grey that conflicts with its intention. I look to where you would be at the kitchen counter pouring coffee and watch it float down in the air because you aren’t there to catch it in a cup. Moving into your space, standing there, I close my eyes and try to warm myself. There is nothing but a shiver.
I’ll try again, I swear I will try harder this time. If only I could wind the world back to yesterday and dinner and one less glass of wine. Before the anger rose in words that fell back down in the sting of snowflakes edged in ice. Back, back to peppered steaks still smoking on the grill and glasses crystal-clear and empty. Or was the storm already swirling, clouding even as you came in the door.
I struggle to pull myself up on the bed, curl up and hold down the covers. I hope to fall asleep and wake up on the floor.