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.
Note: only the most current stories are accessible, to secure the text and particularly, the images from being nabbed by and displayed on public sites. If you would like to read some of the stories that are here, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the password.
#30 FATHERS DAY
If you were from around here, this wind-painted lonely island off the coast of Nova Scotia, you’d be as used to the cliffs that grow up from the lick of the sea, the breezes that bend trees into permanent hurricane lean, and clouds that catch on the tips of skeletal pine trees as you’d be to their celebration of Fathers Day.
Fishing is the island’s survival. Fish for salting and storing, fish for selling on the mainland to buy the meat, the root vegetables, flour, sugar, and coffee they can’t produce for themselves. The women weave blankets from the wool of their sheep and these bring a good price all year round.
It’s a community of mostly women and children left to themselves. The men come in for a few weeks between months out at sea. They repair sails, patch their nets, make love, and make babies.
I was raised here, went away four years to college, came back and resettled into its nest. I have two children and one more on the way. Their fathers work together on the Rachel Lee and are due back the third week of June, as are all the rest of the boats. My father will be coming in too. At least I believe so.
I will be making the clam chowder. We all make our best recipes for this celebration that we take more seriously than Christmas. My mother makes the potato salad. The men come loaded with gifts they have made in the solitude they make for themselves. They carve wood and bone into beauty, just as they carve their own private space out of the ocean and sky. Away at sea is a long time.
When they come in, boat by boat over the days, they are greeted by everyone and greet everyone with the same hugs and kisses. New bonds are formed, new marriages made in the weeks they wobble on land legs meeting their children, their lovers, their wives. Mothers point out men to their children. No child is without father, no woman without man. Bloodlines are charted in the memories of women who love and are loved without guilt.
It’s a grand celebration of survival. And in a few weeks’ time when the sea calls them away, we tearfully give them back and pray she’ll be gentle and generous, and return them safely home.
#29 THE JESUS TAPES
The first reel of the Jesus movies was not convincing, not a get-down-on-your-knees’ inspirational discovery that cast out all doubt the way miracles often do. The public was divided. Angrily in some cases. Some people swore it was truly Jesus, pointing out the beard and the large nose and long hair. They thought the disciples looked authentic too, though many were surprised at Mary Magdalene. Some women thought she looked downright dowdy, a bit dirty–but not in that comforting sexual way.
Dr. Gerard Auerbach was in charge of the discovery when they were first handed over to the Library of Congress then the Smithsonian for study and authentication. They’d been discovered by a homeless man dumpster-diving for lunch. He thought they most likely were porn since he found them in back of the old Starlight Theater and tried to sell them and an elderly gentleman paid the man twenty dollars. When he checked them out on his old movie projector…well. He was a bit disappointed but did the right thing and turned them in to authorities.
Though they became known as the “Jesus Tapes,” they were really a set of twenty 35mm film reels that had Aramaic markings the language department loosely translated as “Winemaking Made Easy,” “Cooking for Crowds,” and “That Special Meal,” and such, so that it was up to Gerard to relate to historical events to ascertain accuracy via scientific methods of dating. It was useless to point out that film hadn’t been invented back in 30 A.D. because a public so discouraged by wars and financial disruption and oil slicks and tornados and all, needed so badly to believe. Those with a shred of faith left pointed out that while film may not have been known to be around back then, miracles had been plentiful. Besides, it was easier to accept than had they been on VCR or DVD.
Gerard was intrigued, albeit completely a skeptic about both religion and the validity of the movies. But as a scholar and scientist and film buff, he did keep an open mind. It was easy enough to historically claim that they could not have been made in the time period but it was really not unassailably true scientific fact, as the materials for producing celluloid film and metal, and naturally, the concept of the wheel-like reel itself were available in the time period. Who’s to say that someone hadn’t come up with the process, wowed a small audience, then because of costs or whatever, movie-making just fell out of use like the hula hoop or 3D. Another flash in the pan idea that died before it could really catch on.
Two years of testing in every which way and results remained inconclusive. So that was it. Gerard found it impossible to definitely pronounce the films as modern day fakes and stated his findings in a research report issued about three years after they had been found.
But his work was not complete. Because of his keen interest and piqued curiosity, Gerard continued to work with the historians to take the final steps. That is, determine if the movies were documentary in nature, or rather, the first high budget biblical epic drama created, thus by far pre-dating Ben Hur.
#28 MILE MARKERS
He didn’t take even a suitcase but he did make a stop at the bank and took out just what he thought he might need. He paid off the last of the mortgage and told the banker to send the papers to her. He filled up the gas tank and set the GPS from the station at the corner of Meadowbrook and Third. After two hours of driving he rolled down the window and let the fresh breeze blow in.
Scenery rolled by like old photographs falling away. His childhood passed in a series of toothy-faced grins, grimy hands holding frogs, and that big rainbow trout he caught with his father. His sisters and he grew an inch taller by Lexington, and smiles turned to sullen teenage rebellion as he hit the state line.
There were three photos of June and him at the proms that he juggled and tried to place dresses with years. Then he remembered that last one and the royal blue satin in wrinkled disorder on the floor of the car.
Their wedding flew in a black and white flurry as fast as the day had itself. For several miles he lingered on that night and the honeymoon photos of an innocent happiness spent driving through Colorado. Then the kids appeared in flashes of birthdays and weddings and highways leading away.
He knew it was just as much his fault as hers, maybe more; he’d taken a different direction. She was one to rely on the main roads, the things she believed she could trust. He’d been there too, but a twitch now and then, a roadside stand selling peaches in August, made him want more. At least if she’d tasted, at least if she’d taken a bite. It would have been enough for him then.
He wonders what was the last picture of her, the last one they’d had taken together. It came to mind as he drew into the outskirts of Houston. Last September. Just a middle-aged couple on their anniversary. He sees the look in their eyes.
#26 TIME SEEN THROUGH LAYERS OF GLASS
You’re much too early and have ruined all careful plans of a great entrance. Now you sit at the table trying to appear calm. You’re not but it was more nerve-wracking to wait in the car. He should be coming soon. After fifteen minutes you order the wine.
The place has changed since you were last here. No booths, just tables dipped in pink frosting. Padded wooden chairs. Dusty bug-filled globes have been replaced by chandeliers. The restaurant has matured gracefully. You wonder why you haven’t. Twenty years and still edgy as a twenty-five year-old. And you thought you were so cool, so avant-garde back then. The two of you, standing on the lip of perfect voice. Commanding, oblivious to failure, with eyes that could see behind the moon.
Time zooms in warp speed, uncontrolled by human hand or mind. You cannot comprehend the term decades and yet they’ve slipped past your peripheral vision. The wine is a chilled white, soothing and smooth as a violin. You look around, adjust your skirt, recross your legs, look around. You’ve taken every precaution to ensure your husband doesn’t ever find out about this meeting because, of course, this is completely innocent with no motives, yet the guilt seeps like ink into the blotter of your imagination.
You don’t intend to wreck your marriage nor even risk it, yet here you are, breath quick and shallow, eyes painting the room and doorways for a man who owns in truth a very small, forgotten piece of your life. Are you looking for reinforcement, some validation of your sexual identity, something that says you are beyond just pots and pans and dusting? You have a part-time job and volunteer at the library as well. People other than your family depend upon and respect and love you. Ah, so it is the sexual ego then.
He’s later than he should reasonably be. Maybe he lied, maybe he’s married too and cannot get away. His wife a clever woman, not as easily fooled as your own honest, trusting spouse. Well that feels even worse. Your husband is a gem. You love him and just because he’s never learned to put his coffee cup in the sink is no reason to be sitting here thinking of a man who once upon a time was your whole world. Then again, this is just an innocent meeting of two friends from a past.
You get up to make a quick trip to the ladies room and as you near the door you spot him entering. He looks terrific. Trim and just a touch of gray. You watch as he is led over to your table, sits and eyes the half-gone wine and pours the glasses full. You turn and take this opportunity to leave.
#25 AMERICA BY STARLIGHT
America is a black sky stabbed and bleeding yellow-white stars. America is rows and rows of orchards pierced with lemon eggs and orange balls I handpick one by one.
I’m lying on my back rocked in the cradle of the pickup truck and listen to me, thinking like a poet. But it’s a long drive back and forth and gives me time to think. We don’t talk. There isn’t much more to say to men you’ve spent eighteen hours with every day side by side. Hot California sun beating on our backs. Cool dawn and dusk darkness on our chests. Every day. Every day. Some sleep; I can’t.
Rosa’s likely just getting up from a couple hours’ nap between the children’s goodnight kisses and my late night meal. I can smell the beans cooking in their pot over the fire, the cumin and the jalapeno like the yellow glow of the lamp. I’ll tiptoe in, so as not to wake the babies, kiss her smile and wash up to sit with her at the table. Then I’ll talk, tell her how Alejandro picked fifty baskets and I filled fifty-nine. And that joke Diego told, if I can remember the ending. And how the black, black sky so full of stars that give no light has no borders. I’ll hold her warm body close to mine to melt the day between us.
Tonight the new moon is just a lemon rind. A safe moon. The purring truck, a cat that pads across the sand is all we worry about. We cut through the silence like a north wind. We may not have much left to tell each other, but we also know that silence is survival. No one wants to speak to ears we know are listening, eyes watching, alert to something in the night they don’t want here.
A plane blinks across the sky. I know there are men in space stations out there, higher up. So much room, so much freedom. I try to breath it in.
Suddenly the night is all bright lights and noise. Men scramble, curse, each following his own instinct. Juan sits silently holding up his hands. Alejandro has jumped and loped like a rabbit into the brush. Amid the noisy shouts of modern Babel, I only hear my heart. It slows, no longer moving my whole body to its beat. I look up and count the stars.
#24 COMING DOWN TO THE BASICS
Alzheimer’s a bitch, a twister of minds. So I agreed to the restraining belt that kept her dressed and in her wheelchair.
It takes some getting used to, this slow mish-mashing of brain cells. Scary. I wonder what she was thinking. Was she twenty years old again and answering the call of some internal trumpets that blared in her head? Was all life reduced to the basics like sex? I decided that she was probably stuck in her wedding night, waiting for my dad. Yeah, that felt the best. On the way out I peeked inside at the man in 303.
Data in, data out. Incoming reports from the Home vie for worry space with John’s grumpy days at the job where daily downsizing is more common than a coffee break. Clots that clog the pipeline of my functioning being. All sorted and stored in my brain cubicles like naughty children sent to their room.
I realized one day I was lonely. After a while John had just stopped talking about things at work. “Too depressing,” he said, though I figured it would be better to get it all out. But that’s John, and most men, I guess. Data in. Data in. I try hard to prioritize, learn where I’m most needed from one moment to the next and John is not as vulnerable right now as my mother. Or maybe it’s time mixed with events that makes the decisions. Crisis by crisis I learn to adjust, to jump to the moment, to cope.
My mother was a rose bloom four days old. Shriveled a bit at the edges, perfume starting to turn, her center stigma exposed with no new stories left to tell except the few that she clung to and I’d heard over and over and over again. The only good side effect of dementia is that it gives you time to adjust. Now she doesn’t talk at all.
“Hi Mom,” I say, eyeing her room, her clothes–at least she is dressed–and focus in on her face. I search for the difference, whatever had been lost in the twenty-four hours since my last visit. Like I said, it’s gradual and you have to look hard. I don’t see it and that worries me though I suppose it should make me feel better.
She grasps my hand, pulls me back and hugs me hard. She’s even smiling! I’m floored and can’t help the tears. She hasn’t known me for a couple weeks. I take it as a flashback. I believe she was my mother for half a minute there.
She comes back to me as I’m making tomato sauce for dinner and I shut my eyes tight to hold the image, erase the wrinkles, the wheelchair, the blank stare on her face. I capture that instant when she pulled me close.
Then all my worlds collide with the rolling groan of the garage door pulling open. But the clock says its only three-thirty and he doesn’t get home till…
The answer settles like a stone done skipping, sinking to its logical end. The clock does something funny, spinning backwards till the hands fall off and it hangs there with an unstrung banjo face. And then it all makes sense and I shut off the burners.
I finally kick off my panties, drop my bra on the floor just as the door slowly opens.
#23 THE CONTRACT
The guest would remain for a year with a probationary period of one month. After a year, Jason had the option of initiating a new request or locking in the guest stay as permanent–unless the visitor had serious objections that could be verified and approved by the court. The goal was a relationship that would grow and yield positive results for both parties as well as the government. Having declared a temporary moratorium on births was saving tons of money but the main purpose of the legislation had been the ripe pimple of inadequate housing. Now, if you owned a home, you owed one room to The Housing Program.
Children were naturally the most requested but Jason was thirty-two and single and few people got what they asked for anyway. He ran down the selections and checked “Elderly/Male” with a backup of “Elderly/Female” feeling that he might even enjoy the wisdom and quiet nonintrusive addition of a senor citizen. He was hoping to avoid “Felon,” male or female, and too shy to openly request a woman his age.
So he was thinking in checkers and chess or brownies and gingerbread as he awaited his resident guest’s arrival. According to regulations, he’d prepared a private bedroom with a computer and internet access. He’d painted the pale blue walls a soft green and bought new white curtains and shades. Extra blankets and pillows were provided and a large closet awaited. He’d been surprised–and a little nervous–that no specific diet had been required.
Jason was unprepared for the butterfly who landed at his door. Tessa was barely twenty, lovely in the way of a pale ghost. She couldn’t cook or play chess but at the end of the first couple of weeks she was baking pies and checkmating his king. There was no question at the end of the one-month probation that she’d stay on and they signed the year contract with his name in sturdy furniture letters and hers in the quick fluttering flight of a quail.
The months flew by quickly. Tessa got a job as a waitress and took college courses at night. Jason helped her with Spanish and Statistics. She included him when she went out with friends. It looked like the government office had made a perfect match. But when the year ended, Tessa refused to sign on for the long term.
“Why not?” Jason begged. He’d grown used to her, fond of her even. She wouldn’t give him a reason but the court demanded one and without a chance of rebuttal, Jason found himself filling out new request papers on the same day she was planning to leave.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she flew out the door, light as smoke wisping away. He studied the form and checked Female/25-35 twice.
He never heard from Tessa, never knew what became of her, but from Mrs. Malloway, an elderly widow who moved in, he suspected something that involved bribes and an underground black market in babies.
Music on, mossy soft and low. Brass that comes deep from the gut, like a dusty Chateau Lafitte snuck up from some castle’s wine cellar. Strings that twang like Latin fingers playing the mandolin of my breast. The music echoes, washes in waves that splash and sparkle with remembered sun.
I rub tangerines and vanilla into my skin. Paint my lips with ripe raspberries. My hair has been rinsed with shiny lemons and catches moonlight through the window that reflects back the room. I smile at the woman there. She looks like any woman in love.
My body is lean and tanned smooth as sand dunes. He is the desert prince. Into his ear I’ll whisper promises that resonate inside the twirls of a broken periwinkle shell. This is the scenario for tonight. He’ll wait for me in the darkened cave of his library while his wife is sleeping upstairs. He’ll wear a caftan robe, he told me, loosely tied at the waist. I’m to wear a ruby red scarf.
He is my Tuesday night regular. I am whatever he wants.
Tick. Tick. Tick. The hands clap together. One passes, tick, tick, tick.
The lights are off except for one small pink globe by the bed. I settle into the pillows, naked, a scarf flows like blood down my throat. I tap out his number; I know it by heart. I frame myself in the screen. “Hi, darlin’,” I whisper.
“Who is this?” she says.
#21 TROUBLE UP AHEAD
I should have shot her then, when we were kids and armed with cap pistols and bravado and didn’t see the trouble up ahead at Grownup Pass.
She was two years older, prettier, a lot more cunning to my roly-poly baby of the family shy. We rode hard back then, camped out in the corner of the hedges in the cool summer shade of the pine. We blew up magnolia petals into balloons until they burst. We used tiny pinecones for bullets when we lost all rubber originals that came with the breakdown shotgun that she toted and I coveted.
I followed her around, the perfect Pancho to her Cisco, Gabby to her Hopalong Cassidy. If our cousins couldn’t come out to play, I was demoted to the bad guy or the Indian. I never let on that I really liked being an Indian. The thought of burying her up to her head and covering that with honey to draw ants was an incentive. I learned to sneak around in moccasin slippers when she was sleeping and I wasn’t because of bad dreams spurred by dark stories she’d whisper into the dark cave of our bedroom after kisses and lights out.
The age difference followed us into our teens, though she preferred me to a doorknob when she practiced dancing to the rock ‘n roll she blared. Then came the Elvis era and she’d lock me out in sullen moods of teenage angst while I dressed up my Barbie and dreamed of growing up with blonde hair, boobs, and rhinestone jewelry. And tall; I’d be tall. She flaunted lipstick, high-heels and nylons to my white socks and Mary Janes. No matter how hard I tried to keep up, she was always two years ahead into adventure.
We smoked a peace pipe through our later years. Laid down our guns and hung up the holsters. Painted rooms in each others’ new homes, diapered each others’ babies. I forgot all about the childish miseries and then…
Well then she won the lottery, dumped her husband and rode off into the sunset with my man.