How To Find What You Came Here For

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The short stories you find here are the product
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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ghostwriter

Anna looked at the straw in her hand.  It was half the size of the ones held by her older brother and sister.

“Great,” she muttered as they hooted and poked each other jubilantly – suddenly twelve again instead of grown with children of their own.

“Hey sis, the attic is all yours.  Watch for rabid bats!” Ryan teased.

Anna glared at him.  “That’s not funny.”

“Yes it is…it really is!” Parker snickered.  “Come on, Ryan, let’s start clearing out the garage.”
It was good to see them laughing and joking.  Anything that helped them get through clearing out their childhood home without an emotional breakdown was welcome.

Anna climbed the rickety ladder to the attic.  As she cautiously poked her head through the opening, she cursed her brother under her breath.  Rabid bats and other unwelcome guests hadn’t even occurred to her.  “Thanks, big brother!” she mumbled.

When nothing but dust moved in the hot air for several minutes, she decided the attic was either unoccupied or its furry tenants were busy elsewhere.  A few more rungs and she was fully in the attic, trying not to think of asbestos and God-knows-what other toxins floating in the stale air.

“Thank God Mom wasn’t a pack rat,” she thought to herself.  The attic only had a few boxes, which were all neatly labeled and stacked.

The first box was labeled “Ryan.”  Anna wasn’t surprised to find that the contents were special mementos specific to her brother – her mother had always been very organized, down to planning the details of her own funeral.

For a few moments she entertained herself by going through pictures and other items that had distinguished themselves enough to be placed in the attic box.  Some of the pictures were unfamiliar.  A small boy with sandy blond hair on a tricycle bore no resemblance to the pre-teen that was her earliest memory of Ryan.

Anna moved the box closer to the attic door and moved on to the next box, which was labeled with Parker’s name.  Opening the box revealed a collection of items similar to Ryan’s, and also included pictures of her sister that had been taken several years before Anna had been born.  Grinning, she stuffed the picture of a three or four-year-old Parker standing naked in a sprinkler into her pocket for future blackmailing purposes. 

For a moment, she nearly skipped the box labeled “Anna,” but curiosity got the better of her.  She pulled the box toward her and opened it.

On top of the items in the box was an envelope with “For Our Beloved Anna” written on it.  Intrigued, she picked it up.  Neither of the other boxes had included a letter.  Flipping the envelope over, she began to read the note written on the back in her mother’s tidy hand:

Anna,
            The letter inside this envelope is from your birth mother.  I know you said you weren’t interested in knowing anything about her – you had all the family you needed - but I saved it in case you changed your mind someday.
            I believe God always meant for us to be a family.  You were our daughter the moment we saw you.  But loving us doesn’t mean you can’t be curious about the woman who gave you life and made our family complete, even if you never meet her.
            It’s your decision.  No matter what you decide – always know we are proud of you.

Love,
Mom

Anna was still staring at the envelope when Ryan and Parker came looking for her, eager to regale her with tales of the mutant spider in the garage.




This post is a response to a prompt from The Red Dress Club  to write about our character finding a forgotten letter from someone in their past.  As always, thank you for stopping by and reading - your comments and critiques are very welcome!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dare To Fail

I'm back!  Long time, no read!  Have you missed me?  Wait...don't answer that!  Let me bask in the comfortable glow of my ignorance just a little while longer!

In case you were wondering where I've been (you were, weren't you?), I have not actually dropped off the face of the Earth.  I was at my church all last week (Sunday through Sunday) for my baby - the performing arts camp.

You may recall me mentioning this camp on a previous post.  Our happy campers arrive on Monday having never seen our music or the script, and by Friday they are ready to perform the entire musical from memory.  I have come to believe that only kids could do this - and they do it very well!  Our performance on Friday night was amazing and incredibly inspiring.  Each year I think, "There is no way we'll top this."  And then we do!

In church on the Sunday following our camp, we watched a video-taped sermon from our denomination's Annual Conference.  The pastor was wonderful, and he had a message that really spoke to me.  The question he asked was, "What would you do, if you knew you could not fail?"

Our campers last week exemplified this concept.  I'm not sure that adults would be able to do what these 6-13 year old kids did - learn all of their lines (and there were many), the blocking, and the lyrics and motions to all of the songs...in five days!

The kids have an advantage:  it never occurred to them that they might fail.

As adults, failure seems to be the only thing we think about.  As the song says, "We never failed to fail, it was the easiest thing to do."

I love to write, but I've never taken the idea of writing as a career seriously.  I'm so concerned that I might fail, that failing is all I do.

I've decided to dare to fail, and take writing as a career more seriously.

I might fail.

Then again...I might not.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Leg Up

The pantyhose had been an epiphany.

For years Liz had bought the kind that went to her knees.  When you’re 5’3” and you weigh over two hundred pounds, the kind that go all the way up are next to impossible to get on.  It had taken two years to lose more than half of that weight and discover the joy of wearing pantyhose that didn’t leave a crease around the bottom of her knees.

She stood in front of her closet in her bra and pantyhose and tried to decide what to wear.  Her firm was interviewing for partnerships for the next few days; she knew from years of glowing reviews and stingy promotions that her appearance counted for more than her near-flawless record in the court room.  The fact that her male counterparts could be the Pillsbury Doughboy incarnate and still be promoted was a double standard no one questioned.

Liz settled on a red skirt suit – it made her feel powerful.  The skirt skimmed several inches above her knees, and the fitted jacket hugged curves instead of bulges.  She’d recently graduated to stylish pumps from the flats her weight had required.

The mirror in her bathroom was a new addition as well.  Before she’d lost the weight, she’d been happy with the small mirror on her medicine cabinet.  She knew very well what the rest of her looked like; seeing it reflected a large mirror was not appealing.

She wasn’t sure about the hair.  She’d always worn it long, but her stylist had recommended a short, choppy cut and Liz had agreed in a moment of excitement.  Looking at it now, she had to admit it suited her thinner face and brought out the highlights in her sable hair.  A little make-up to enhance her blue eyes, and she was ready to go.

***

“Liz!  Wait up!” 

Liz turned to see her assistant hurrying across the lobby to catch up, and paused at the door to the stairwell.

“Hang…on…”  Carrie bent at the waist to catch her breath as Liz grinned.

“Do you need some water…oxygen?”

Carrie snorted and straightened.  “Very funny!  The partners are starting the interviews early.  You’re meeting with Bryant in twenty minutes.”

For a moment Liz froze.  All of her old insecurities rose like ghosts of cheeseburgers past, and she was once again the fat girl struggling to be taken seriously.

“Liz!”  Carrie reached out and shook her arm.

“Yeah!  No problem.  I’ll meet you upstairs – just get my files together for me,” she called back as she started up the stairwell.

“I can’t believe you’re still gonna take the stairs!”  Carrie called after her, and laughed as Liz flashed another grin back at her.

The elevators being what they were, she beat her assistant to her office and had time to drop her briefcase behind her tidy desk and sit for a few minutes to catch her breath. 

***

An hour later, Liz calmly walked back into her office, Carrie close behind.

“Spill…now!” 

Liz sank into her chair and stared at her assistant.

“The honorable James Bryant and the esteemed Marcus Black would like to express their regret…”

Carrie sucked in a shocked breath and dropped into the facing chair.

“…that they have not recognized my potential before now!” she finished gleefully.

Carrie leaned forward and smacked Liz on the arm.  “Don’t do that to me!”

“I couldn’t resist…I’m sorry,” Liz apologized, laughing.

“Was it the Klein case?  Is that what finally did it?”

Liz shook her head.  “No.”

The two women shared a look over the desk, and then spoke together, “It was the legs.”





This post is a response to the latest prompt from The Red Dress Club to write about physical beauty.  Thank you for stopping by - comments and critiques are always welcome!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dora & Daphne

I would like to introduce you to two very special girls.  Their names were Dora and Daphne, and they were sisters.

We fostered Dora and Daphne several years ago.  We had been volunteering with a couple of different animal rescues for a few years.  At first the only animals we fostered were guinea pigs, but desperation and overcrowding prompted one of the rescues to ask us to step out of our comfort zone and take…rats.

Go ahead.  Say, “Ewwww!  Rats!?”  Get it out of your system.  Better now?

Hubby Dan was right there with you.  He agreed to give it a try, but he wasn’t excited about it.  It didn’t help that the first rats we fostered were a pair of hairless girls.  They looked like aliens.  Their skin was incredibly soft and papery – like very elderly ladies get sometimes.  And they were warm.  Very warm.

Then one of them climbed into his shirt pocket and went to sleep.  It was cute.  Too bad about that tail…but… it was cute.  Hubby’s heart softened.  We discovered their amazing intelligence, the wonderful variety of their personalities.  We watched them play and tease each other.  We fell in love with all of them.

None of the rats we fostered after that first pair stayed very long.  We had a reputation – we were quite good at taking skittish little creatures and socializing them.  We transformed them into sweet, affectionate friends that people were eager to adopt.

Then came Dora and Daphne.

Dora and Daphne were medicals.  Their lungs had been scarred thanks to an ignorant owner who’d kept them in a glass fish tank on cedar bedding.  Double whammy.  The scarring was permanent, and it would shorten lives that were already only two or three years long in the first place.  They couldn’t be adopted.

Their misfortune was our blessing.

Female rats are well-known for their energy level (think the worst case of ADHD you’ve ever seen, multiplied by about four thousand), but these girls didn’t have the breath for that.  Instead, they were snugglers.

I got in the habit of having one or both girls on my shoulder when I was at the computer.  They’d sleep, tail wrapped lightly around my throat for balance, occasionally waking long enough to climb down onto the shelf of my chest to beg for chin scritches.

Our oldest son was a member of the marching band at his high school, which meant driving to the school in the afternoon to pick him up.  I started taking Dora with me.  She’d sit on my shoulder as we drove, tail in its customary position, one tiny paw on my ear for extra security.  When my son got in the car she’d transfer to his shoulder and start grooming anything she could reach.

As much as we loved them – and they loved us – nothing compared to the love they had for each other. 

Dora was sicker than Daphne.  She couldn’t play as long or as hard, and she tired easily.  Often, when it got quiet and I’d go check on them, I’d find them in their fabric hammock.  Dora would have her eyes half-closed in an expression of ratty bliss as Daphne gently groomed her.  Dora couldn’t tolerate the rough grooming that rats usually enjoyed, and her sister understood that.  She’d carefully clean each paw, then the ears, and finally the tail, until Dora was sleeping peacefully.

They seemed to understand that they wouldn't have long with us or with each other, and they were determined to enjoy every moment.  When the time finally came, Dora and Daphne crossed the Rainbow Bridge together. 





If you've never spent time with rats...of the pet variety that is...it's hard to truly express the sense of intelligence you get from them.  All of the bonded pairs and groups we fostered showed affection for each other, but Dora and Daphne were special.  As always, thank you for sharing this moment with me - comments and critiques are welcome!




Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hope

This is a continuation of an earlier post - Side-By-Side - you may want to read that post first if you haven't read it before, or if you'd like to refresh your memory of Sara and Abraham.





                The house was quiet, but not peaceful.  Abraham felt the static of tightly wound nerves running over his skin and twisting his stomach.  He looked across the living room to where Sara was reading a book - or more accurately, a page.  He hadn't heard her flip to a new one in a while.  He took a breath and tried to settle his stomach, but the knots remained.

                "Incoming!"  The loud ring tone from his cell phone startled both of them.  He looked at the number displayed and looked back up at Sara.  He didn't have to tell her who it was.

                He took a deep breath, hoping his voice wouldn’t betray his nerves, "Hello?"

                 "Hi Abraham!  We're on our way over!"  The cheerful voice of Angela, their caseworker, bounced through the phone.

                "Great, we’ll be waiting.  Do we need to do anything else?"

                "Not a thing!  We've got everything taken care of.  I'll see you in a bit, OK?"

                "OK.  See you in a bit," he murmured, and hit the button to disconnect the call.  "Sara, they're on the way.  Are you ready?"

                She took a deep breath and put her book down.  "Just let me check the room."

                Abraham followed his wife down the short hall to what had been a guestroom for most of their marriage.  The smell of fresh paint wasn't as strong as it had been, but it was still noticeable.  Sara had agonized over the colors for months - pastels or primary?  The furniture hadn't been any easier.  There were so many styles to choose from that in the end they'd decided that simple and sturdy would probably be best.

                She walked through the room, fussing with the bedding and making sure everything was in its place.  There were no clothes in the dresser or the closet yet - Angela had suggested they wait on the more personal things.

                Finally, when there was nothing left to straighten or fix, Sara turned to Abraham.  "I'm scared, Abe."

                He sighed and felt his stomach unknot at her admission.  A quick step forward and she was in his arms, her head tucked under his chin and arms wrapped tight around his narrow waist.  "So am I, hon."

                It had been a year – a year full of classes and counseling.  A year trying to come to terms with the death of their dream.  There would be no delighted phone call to report a positive test.  There would be no need to measure the gently expanding bump that signaled new life, or buy clothes that only served one purpose.  It had taken more strength and courage than either of them had known they had, to walk away from that dream and build a new one.

They held each other a few minutes longer, until he leaned back far enough to look into her face.  "Are you ready?"

                She smiled and rubbed her cheeks, wet with tears, on his shirt.  "Absolutely!"

                They walked down the hallway side-by-side, holding hands.  The doorbell rang and they looked at each other, reading anxiety and hope on each other's faces.  Abraham reached out and swung the door open.

                "Well hi!" Angela bubbled, but Sara and Abraham didn't notice.  All their attention was focused on the other person on the porch.  Understanding, Angela smiled and turned to the thin nine-year-old next to her, "Isabelle, are you ready?"

                Isabelle drew a deep breath and wished the butterflies in her stomach would calm down.  She looked from one smiling face to the other and felt the unfamiliar fluttering of hope join the butterflies.  

"Absolutely!"



This post is a response to this week's prompt from The Red Dress Club - our assignment was to write a happy ending.  I decided that I wanted Sara and Abraham to have a happy ending, but I felt that they deserved more than one of those, "and all their dreams came true " endings.  Thanks for stopping in - I appreciate your comments and critiques!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forever & Ever, Amen


Through the door into the church, dim after the sunshine outside.

Two steps in, dip my middle finger into the cool water held in a small metal bowl hung on the wall at shoulder height to me, waist high to my parents.

Dab the water on my forehead, “In the name of the Father. . .” above what will someday be my breasts, “. . . the Son. . .” at my left shoulder, then my right, “. . . and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

Breathe deep the scent of old incense and candle wax, imprinted indelibly on the wood and my mind.

Walk forward; trying to get as close to the front as I can before Dad’s hand drops on my shoulder.  Genuflect, and then slide into the pew to wait and fidget.

Mass – flowing and weaving through ancient tradition and modern practice.   Scripture – voices from the past that speak to my heart and soul, even as a child.  The comfort and ease of the ritual – standing, sitting, and kneeling in choreographed worship – brings the focus I so rarely have.

The homily begins, focus falters.  Father Brady’s Irish brogue whispers over my head, as I read ahead to next week’s scripture…and the next…and the next. 

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…” the words flow, spoken music, telling the story of my faith.

Then the heart: the chalice and the plate and two glass containers – one water, one wine.

“The Lord be with you.” One voice, strong and sure.

                                    “And also with you.”  Many voices, in verbal and spiritual unison.

“Lift up your hearts.”

                                    “We lift them up to the Lord.”

“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

                                    “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.”

Each prayer, each response moving us closer to the moment and carrying me with it.

“Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.”

A pause, waiting for the next step.

“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are those who are called to his supper.

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Kneeling, simulating meditation as I listen to the thump of padded kneelers being flipped up out of the way as the pews empty to join the line to receive the Eucharist.

The dry wafer on my tongue, stuck to the roof of my mouth as I kneel.

Child, teenager, wife, mother. 

Through the doubts and questions and searching, the words and the ritual never fail.  Catholic or Methodist, contemporary or traditional.  The heart remains and the soul remembers.  Forever and ever, Amen.



Oh, how I loved church (still do)!  One of my first disappointments was in discovering that girls couldn't become priests.  The sights and scents and sounds have combined to create a strong sense memory that I can access any time, any place - unlike my memory of where I've left my cell phone...which is still lost.  Thank you for visiting and comments and constructive criticism are always welcome!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Breathe


I don't normally preface my responses to prompts from The Red Dress Club - I like to let people read whatever I wrote without my input, and then explain the response at the end.  In this case, I felt like I needed to give a little heads-up.  The prompt was to write about what we want, or what a character wants.  Typically I use the Red Writing Hood prompts to give my fiction muscles a workout, but this time I was pulled back to the memoir.  A recent event tied up in all the hope, anxiety, love, and fear I feel as my son becomes an adult at light speed.

Tissue alert - don't say you weren't warned!  Lay on, fearless readers!





“What do you want for Michael next school year?”

I stared at the guidance counselor and her manic chipmunk smile.

What do I want for my son?
  
***
 
When he was born I wanted him to breathe.


For months after he was born I wanted the scale to tell me he was gaining weight instead of always losing. 


When he was a year old I wanted him to walk and talk.


When he was two I wanted to understand what he said to me.  I wanted him to say, “I’m hungry,” instead of, “yoongee.”  I wanted a few months without an ear infection – without a 3am visit to the ER and another round of antibiotics and yogurt.


When he was three I wanted the speech therapy to work for him like it did for his brother.


When he was four I wanted him to be potty trained.


When he was five I wanted him to be ready to start kindergarten…and potty trained.


When he was six, I wanted our second time through kindergarten to be the charm.


When he was seven I wanted him to make some friends.


When he was eight I wanted him to have a teacher that understood him – instead of one who fed him sugar donuts for a morning snack and then complained that he was hyper.


When he was nine I wanted him to stay in third grade forever.  The only year that went well…the only year he had a teacher who actually thought he was amazing.


When he was ten, I wanted someone to tell me what was wrong with my beautiful boy.  I wanted someone to be brave enough to be the bearer of bad news instead of the cowardly liar mouthing false hope. 


When he was eleven I wanted him to punch the kids that tortured him on a daily basis, instead of just believing that sooner or later they’d like him if he was nice enough to them.


When he was twelve I wanted him to stop coming home with that expression of hurt confusion on his face after another day of teasing. 


When he was thirteen I wanted to make the autism go away so he wouldn’t struggle so hard to understand the simplest social interaction with other kids.


When he was fourteen I wanted to take away his anxiety so he’d stop picking at his skin until his arms and hands were covered in open sores.


When he was fifteen I wanted to see him smile like he did when he was four – back when hope and joy still lived in his world. 



Now he’s sixteen.  I’m sitting in another meeting with people who assure me they know how smart my son is…and yet they talk to him like he’s six.


What do I want for Michael?


“Let’s talk about improving his social skills and working on self-sufficiency.”


The chipmunk turns to Michael. “Does that sound good to you?” she asks, using a voice a second-grader would find condescending, and I watch him frown and mumble an agreement.  He’s tuning her out.


What do I want?


I want a damn crystal ball that tells me whether or not this beautiful, brilliant young man will be able to make it on his own in a few years.  I want the fucking magic wand that I can wave and make everything right for him, the one that guarantees success and happiness.


What do I want? 


The genie didn’t give me three wishes.  I got the only wish I was going to get – I wanted him to breathe.


Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing this moment of my life with me.  As always, comments and concrit are very welcome!