Wednesday, September 7, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 7

So... those prompts just aren't doing it for me. I didn't notice before jumping in that quite a few of them are auto-biographical, much harder for me to jump into. So I dusted off my copy of What If? by Anne Bernays and (my former professor) Pam Painter.

I'll be honest, I've run out of time to do any flash this morning. But I didn't want to miss two days in a row, slippery slopes and all.

So it's a cheat post and I'll tag it as such, but still take it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 5

Okay so Day 4 is missing. I knew weekends would be a challenge and a HOLIDAY weekend more so. I waffled this morning about whether I ought to do Day 4 anyway and post two today, but since this is my challenge, I'm taking the hit point. After not blogging for years, I'm pretty pleased about three posts in a row. I'll keep a little counter though.

Missing Days: 1

The other thing is, if you mosey over to the 30 Day Challenge website, you'll see that I'm doing Day 4's challenge anyway. I was sorry to have missed it because it sounds like fun. I guess we'll see.

Simon had been in the travel business for many years. He'd retire in a couple of years, and looked forward to taking some of the trips he'd helped people set up. Most of the trips were repetitive; the newlyweds headed to the Caribbean, the single woman looking for adventure in Paris, the young men going to Las Vegas for a forgotten weekend. He barely needed to think about those. Everyone wanted the same two or three experiences. He always offered travel insurance as well. Protection against missed flights or canceled trips, but also plans for more serious things like injury or illness while traveling, even death. No one took the insurance. Not even the older people who always wanted to see the Grand Canyon. He didn't want to alarm them but always wanted to stress how at their advanced ages they most of all should be thinking of the end days. In all his days though, he'd only had a couple of tense phone calls with people whose trips had been canceled-- weddings called off, illnesses requiring hospital stays-- he always felt guilty saying they couldn't have their money back, but he did always offer.

The Internet had slowed down his business some. He had a mostly older clientele, a lot of regulars. The Johnsons were trying to visit every national park in the United States. Janeane Smith had come to him to plan her honeymoon, followed by family trips to Hawaii and Florida, and then her first solo trip to Spain to celebrate her divorce. He didn't mind the slowdown, since he was slowing down himself. He felt bad knowing that when he retired his receptionist would be out of a job. He glanced over at her, young, blonde and perky. She was on that website, something about faces. As long as she answered the phone when it rang, he didn't mind paying her to play on the computer.

That particular day, a woman came in alone, just walked in off the street which hadn't happened in years. In fact, almost all of Simon's business was done by phone. The office was fairly bare. He had posters in the front windows of palm trees and white sand beaches, and a jumbo jet flying off into a sunset, but they were faded from years in the sun. The fake rubber tree plant in the front was gray was dust, and he'd stopped magazine subscriptions to the office so the issues on the table in the waiting area were all two years out of date. The receptionist greeted the woman enthusiastically, offering her some of the water from the cooler behind her desk. The woman declined and said with some urgency she wanted to book a trip.

Simon came to greet her and gestured toward his desk. He led the way, pulling out the chair for her. She was quite striking. Very tall, with a figure that clearly had once been lithe, but had settled over the years. Her hair was black as coal, and her eyes were the palest blue he had ever seen, the irises ringed in black. She took off her black coat to reveal a riotous sweater of every color known to man, it seemed to Simon. He saw there were also tiny bells affixed to it here and there. She sat perfectly still.

"It's so nice to meet you...." Simon had learned years ago not to make any presumptions of a woman's marital status. He often wished for an all-purpose greeting like "mister" that could be used for women.

"Mona Peale," she said, reaching out her hand. He expected her handshake to be limp, but she gripped his hand firmly it hurt a little, and gave one forceful shake. Decisive.

"You can tell by the sign right there that I'm Simon Powell. What can I do for you?"

"I want to take a trip."

"Well you're in the right place!" He liked to take guesses at where people wanted to go. Mona seemed like an eastern European woman. "Where were you thinking of going?"

"I don't think you can help me get there."

Simon kept his smile on his face, but faltered. "I've been in this business going on forty years, Ms. Peale."

"Miss."

"Miss Peale. There isn't anywhere in the world that I haven't sent someone." He paused. "Except Antarctica of course." He laughed. Mona didn't.

"Mr. Powell. I have been all over the world already, some parts of it twice. I have my trip planned, I just need to get insurance."

The other thing about the insurance was that it was generally lucrative for Simon. People paid but nearly never collected. He always hoped people would take it because his profit margin was better for that than the trip. He had never in his life had someone request the insurance up front, much less without scheduling a trip. "That's a very unusual request, Miss Peale. Are you sure I can't help you with your travel?"

"I am sure. Is this something you can do?"

"It sure is," Simon said. "What kind are you looking for?"

"I need everything."

"Everything?"

"Everything."

"Cancelation, missed flight, illness, death and dismemberment, lost baggage, emergency evacuation?"

"And also repatriation of remains."

She was so matter of fact a chill ran up Simon's spine. "Okay, we have that. To calculate the price, I just need to know where you're going."

Mona rolled her eyes. "Does this make a difference?"

"Well, yeah. Is it domestic, international, to a dangerous region?"

"Yes."

"Right," Simon said. He had a feeling he was being put on. "Did Gene send you down here?"

"I don't know Gene."

"Or Larry? Listen, we're really busy here."

"As am I. Fine. It's a trip to Alaska. Redoubt, Alaska."

Simon was surprised to be so wrong about her destination. "Okay then," he said, pulling up a map on his computer. "What's in Redoubt? I never heard of it."

"It's beautiful this time of year."

"The only thing coming up here is a volcano," he said, laughing.

Mona pursed her lips. "We're leaving in a week, will the insurance be ready for then?"

"We?"

"I have a-- companion."

Out of habit he glanced at her left hand and saw a pink mark on her ring finger. He looked back up at her face and her expression hadn't changed. She sat perfectly straight, her face completely unreadable. "A companion costs extra." He said, his mouth went dry.

"I thought it would."

"Will your companion be able to sign as a potential beneficiary?"

"The trip is a surprise. I'd rather take care of everything myself."

She squirmed just a little in her seat, and held her hands together in her lap. Simon tried to imagine the kind of man who would marry this woman. What their life was like. He had a vision of hiking up a volcano and being inside. Why would she even need repatriation? Anyone that happened to would just disappear.

Simon tapped at his keyboard while he thought over the big payday he would have with that policy, even if she did make a claim. Maybe she'd back out of the trip altogether, he'd still get a nice sum, maybe enough for a little weekend away himself. He tapped. Mona stared.

Finally Simon grimaced as he looked at the screen. "Sorry, we can't insure you for a journey like that."

Saturday, September 3, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 3



This was supposed to post! I had it scheduled, I swear!

Want to do a 30 day challenge yourself? Prompts here! For Day 3, I'm not feeling the prompt, so I went here instead.

Bridgit brought the plant to Marcia's house one day after they had a long phone conversation the night before. Marcia had just been dumped, there was no other word for it. She'd been going out with the guy for months and one Thursday night when Marcia casually asked what they'd be doing the next night, having spent the past ten Fridays together, he said, "I don't know what you're doing, I'm going out with my friends."

Marcia was understandably confused. "Well what about Saturday?"

"What about never." He said, and hung up.

"At least he didn't ghost you," Bridgit said, but Marcia thought that might have been better.

The next morning Bridgit brought the plant. It was a plain green one, not even any flowers, and Marcia suspected that Bridgit already had it in her house. The soil was tamped down from repeated waterings. "I thought you could use something to take care of," Bridgit said. Marcia's cat wound around her ankles. "Plus I think this'll cheer you up."

Marcia looked at the plant. It was slightly wilted and had a brown leaf. She smiled. "Thank you so much!"

"I just stopped by to drop that off. I have Zumba," Bridgit said, hugging Marcia and walking briskly to her car.

Marcia set the plant on her kitchen counter. She was terrible with plants. She figured she'd keep it until it died, which looked like it'd happen shortly.

She went about her life. She went to work, she made plans, she tried to stop thinking about that guy. She didn't see Bridgit.

She didn't water the plant, or particularly notice it, until one day when she walked by it on the counter and something caught her attention. There was a glint in the corner of her eye. When she turned, there was just the plant there. It had been a couple of weeks, she'd expected it to be dead or nearby. Somehow though it had thrived. The leaves were shiny and deep green, plump even. She fingered one gently. After touching the plant her hand smelled fresh and green. She added some water to the pot.

A few days later a stalk emerged with a perfectly spherical green bulb at the end. She caught the cat on the counter batting at it and shooed him away. The bulb grew but never seemed closer to blooming. If anything it got harder, the green darker. The stalk started drooping down until the bulb, now resembling a goose egg.

Marcia became entranced by the plant. She raced home each day, anxious to see if the bulb had broken. It never did, but it got bigger. She could see the things that glinted now, The edges of the leaves were tiny silver lines. The bulb looked more like an egg all the time. It settled onto the soil and grew bigger. She was alarmed when she saw it pulsate, like the belly of a pet mouse she's gotten once at the pet store. It'd had six squirming, naked babies and eaten them all.

A month after Bridgit dropped off the plant, Marcia took a day off from work to watch the plant. She had her breakfast next to it, and as she sipped her coffee, a foul smell started coming from it. The bulb cracked... it was an egg.

The bird that emerged had patchy pink feathers and a red beak. It cocked its head at her and squawked.

Marcia had never thought about having a bird, but seeing that pathetic thing tugged at her heart, in a way that heartbreak hadn't for weeks.

Friday, September 2, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 2

(If you want to do the 30 Day Challenge too, go here for prompts!)

She knew this would happen eventually. Claudine, while putting on her makeup, heard a clatter and without even glancing down she knew her engagement ring had gone down the sink.

"Why don't you get one of those ring holder?" Paul had said one morning, watching as she spread out all of her beauty accoutrement along the edge of the tiny sink. There wasn't room for one, she said, and besides she always put it behind the mouthwash, where would it go.

They were out of mouthwash.

She finished her eyeliner and looked at the drain to see if perhaps the ring had gotten stuck on a clot of hair (she shed like a golden retriever), or maybe had caught just perfectly on the bit of wire in there like a rusty peace sign. No dice.

Claudine sighed. She had to get ready, she had to go to work, and she didn't have time for Paul to come in and ask, pull the sink apart, search the u-bend, picking through whatever disgusting horrors lurked there (she had washed a spider down the drain once) to find the ring and make her put it back on her finger.

When Paul gave her the ring she was thrilled. It had been his grandmother's, bought at a time when his family had more money and diamonds were cheaper. It had an enormous stone, Claudine gasped when she saw it. She hadn't been going with Paul for that long, less than a year. She'd let herself get swept up in the romance of quickly fired courtship, and of course, she was enamored by the ring.

She wouldn't marry Paul until they lived together. He didn't see the point in waiting, but agreed anyway, saying he didn't want one of those engagements that stretched out endlessly. He was approaching thirty and feeling like time was running out. "I want to be a young dad," he always said, to anyone who would listen, looking to Claudine for a reassuring smile.

Once the fire had been reduced to coals though, after a year of living together, Claudine found herself gazing more adoringly at the ring than at Paul. He laughed too loudly at movies, even in the darkened theater among strangers. He always wanted to be outside, doing athletic things. Claudine had humored him in the beginning. She'd loved seeing his smile when he was in the woods, and loved the way he'd take her hand over any slight irregularity in the path, as though she were a fragile, wonderful creature. She didn't think she'd have to keep going. After a while even the ring lost it's luster. She saw it as a promise she no longer wanted to make.

Claudine sat at the sink and thought about all of Paul's faults. His tiny hairs from shaving clung to the side of the sink. His dirty socks were on the floor behind her. She envisioned him still sleeping, knowing he would wake soon and come in to kiss her with his foul breath, ruining her lipstick, and knock about the kitchen making breakfast, singing-- singing!-- as he did so. She imagined the rest of her life picking up socks and fixing her lipstick.

She thought about her old life, living alone, often lonely, eating ice cream by the pint and drinking wine by the bottle, watching romantic comedies and wishing. But she also thought of quiet mornings. A house that looked the same when she came home as when she left it.

She hurriedly slapped on some mascara and threw her makeup into a bag. She ran the tap for a full minute, imagining the ring working its way through the pipes, buoyed by the clean tap water, all the way out to the sea.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

30 Day Challenge: Day 1!

Hello there! It's been a minute! I was recently talking with my friend Ryan about flash fiction and writing prompts, and then The 30 Day Challenge fell into my lap. We're doing it! This also seemed like a great way to get back on the blogging horse, so here we go....

"So glad to see you," I say. "Missed you so much, thought about you every day."

Jacob grimaced and turned away.

The last time we saw each other his father was lowered into the ground. I had taken a handful of earth, cool and damp, and chucked it on top of the casket, maybe a little too hard. It was June, after school had ended, and my family moved a couple of hectic weeks later. I finished high school two states away. I wrote a few letters and never got replies. his phone number changed. There wasn't any Internet.

"Anyway," I said. "How's things?"

I was back now, startled every time I went somewhere I saw a familiar face. I was used to blending and invisibility, and now a trip to the market could take two hours, running into my best friend in first grade, my old babysitter, my sixth grade English teacher. They had all stayed and grown old while the town remained around them like a time capsule. It was nice to fall into conversations with the adults of my youth and feel young again. I was tired of always being the adult.

Jacob sighed and turned to walk away. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him toward me. "You can at least be civil," I hissed into his ear from behind.

He shook off my hand and started walking and I abandoned my cart full of fruits, vegetables, healthy things so anyone seeing me would know I'm just fine, and I followed him. I could see people looking over, I imagined them at the dinner table that night, "she's up to her old tricks again." But these weren't old tricks, I wasn't up to anything.

Finally near the door I got in front of him. I stood in front of him and I said, "Jacob Matthews, you will talk to me."

All those years ago, I made a simple mistake. I wanted to impress Jacob. I climbed to the roof of his house and waited for him to notice me, but his parents came home. His father called up to me that I had to get down, he set the ladder against the eave, he called to me but I wouldn't. I couldn't. He climbed the ladder and reached out his hand and it wasn't even on purpose. I just touched the ladder a little with the toe of my sneaker, hardly at all. Jacob had yelled at me when he saw me at the funeral, but it was my right to be there. Everyone who mattered agreed it was an accident.

I waited twenty years to come back. Twenty years of switching schools, dropping out of colleges, marrying and divorcing, burying my own parents too early, and now I was finally standing in front of the man who it turned out I still loved, still felt a flutter when he was nearby. I softened my face into a smile. "It's been a lifetime," I said.

Jacob straightened his spine and stared. I waited for him to smile and say he'd heard I was around and hoped he'd see me. He wordlessly pushed by me and walked out into the October sunshine.

I'm still waiting.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quick Update

Hello! The dust is settling and I'm gearing up to bring you more book reviews and salty opinions, but please allow me this quick plug:
I had my first full-length story picked up by Pilgrimage magazine and I am ecstatic! If you're interested, you can get a copy here!
I also had a flash fiction piece picked up at the same time (makes the two rapid-fire rejections I received sting just a tiny bit less): The Show Must Go On.
I keep threatening on twitter to talk about 90210 (the 90's masterpiece, not the aughts nightmare), but in truth I've been really into Melrose Place (guess I finally hit the age bracket) and reading A Song of Fire and Ice (or is it Ice and Fire? Who effing knows... everyone just calls it Game of Thrones).
'Til next time!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Review: Tenth of December

A reader can always count on George Saunders for a surrealist twist, deceptively simple language and searching characters. Too often, authors who incorporate elements of sci-fi and fantasy into their stories face derision and a dismissive hand wave, "The stories are good, but--" Saunders avoids the naysayers by crafting stories about real people. Sure, perhaps we don't yet string up girls from third world countries for our own amusement, but the family in that story express desires every reader has felt at one time or another. Yes, the stories are offbeat, the people are often strange, but every story has heart. Saunders masters merging the two in Tenth of December.

In the aforementioned story The Semplica Girl Diaries, a husband begins a journal to memorialize his life. He loves the idea that by writing simply one page per day, he will have 365 pages of information to leave for his future readers. He frequently addresses his future readers, though he doesn't say who he imagines these futures might be or why they might be interested in his journal. Like many people, he wants to leave behind a legacy and strives to be the best and provide the best for his family and never seems to measure up. A stroke of luck allows him to buy a set of coveted Semplica Girls, young women from third world countries who undergo surgery to have wire strung through their heads so they can hang from a rack in their new owner's yard. On its face, this story could have become simply a story about ownership, slavery, greed- but Saunders avoids proselytizing to simply show an everyman's desire and the consequences for his own family.

Saunders is adept at quick switches between the points of view of characters, even when every character imagines the scene very differently, in fact when the scene occurs only within their imagination with glimpses at the truth. The opening story, Victory Lap showcases this talent. The story opens on a vivid imagined scene with a female character, switching to the boy next door who feels constrained by rules and faces immobility when faced with a situation that would require him to break those rules. Unlike many of Saunders stories, this one has real peril, a plot line that could have been easily exploited to veer into the sentimental or garish, but instead he stays so close to the characters, the reader hardly has time to think about the danger at hand, staying with the characters as they consider actions and consequences.

The most moving story is the title piece, Tenth of December. The two main characters switch point of view, with the young boy weaving an imaginary situation and the older man's addled brain handing him facts and memories in a non-linear fashion. While there is some danger in the story, Saunders again avoids resting on the easy plot line to engage the reader with the minds of these characters, and also leaving in the air who to root for and what the reader should want. The complicated emotional pitch keeps the story with the reader long after the book has been closed.

While the stories are wonderful, they are also (some of them) quite old. Puppy (a wonderful, heartrending story) is five years old, while Sticks came out in the mid-nineties. One wonders why there was so much hype surrounding this collection when it seems as though it's simply a collection of stories previously anthologized elsewhere. Someone new to Saunders' work would appreciate this, but fans can't help to feel a bit disappointed to not discover anything brand new in the collection. That said, it's certainly a collection that can be enjoyed multiple times.