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JennaGlatzer
04-14-2005, 12:03 PM
Okay, finalists! Congrats on surviving round one. Onto round two...

Your theme this week is:

MISUNDERSTANDINGS.

Show us a conflict that stemmed from a misunderstanding.

Again, any genre, any format.

Length: 1000-1500 words.

(Or, if a poem, 25-40 lines.)

Deadline: Thursday, April 21, 11:59 p.m. Eastern.

Good luck!

DJP
04-18-2005, 10:01 PM
SENDING MARY

a short story by

Darla Paskell





Her hands shook. “It’s here!” She ran to her husband, threw herself into his arms, laughing and crying, now shaking everywhere. “It’s really here.” She stared into his eyes, shiny with hope and fear. “My name is Mary.” They laughed as a vicious kick reminded them they weren’t alone.

“Do you hear that, little one? Your mother’s name is Mary.” The man she loved nuzzled her growing belly and talked to their unborn child.“You shall be born in…” he glanced up at her, “America!”

“The ticket says I leave…” her smile faded, “tomorrow.” The last whispered word hung over them like a blanket. Suffocating at the thought of their separation, yet comforting in the knowledge they would reunite as an American family.

“I’ll be there before you can miss me,” he consoled, and stood to cradle her against his chest.

“I miss you already,” she whispered.

The hours flew by in a frenzy of packing and repacking. The time spent cuddling and caressing, comforting and lovemaking, just soaking each other in, passed all too quickly.





On the airplane she had second thoughts. What was she doing? How could she leave her husband and travel half way around the world in her condition? What if things weren’t set up like they were supposed to be? Sweat broke out on her upper lip, her brow, in the small of her back.

“Ma’am, are you alright?” Mary struggled to understand this accented English. She’d taken classes, but they weren’t helping now. Remembering the hours she’d spent with her husband, practicing the English words, she fought back tears. Nodding to make the woman go away, she retreated into her memories. Their wedding day, the day she told him she was pregnant, the day they were accepted into this program.

Mary dug the wear-softened paper from her bag. It was plain, only black and white. There were no photos to display the happy participants. This program didn’t follow those who’d graduated; there were no funds for that.

“This is our chance.” He’d looked so sure, so happy and eager.

“How do we know it’s true?” She’d had doubts about going alone.

“Sometimes you have to have faith. This is right for us! Our children are going to be Americans!” The fervor of his words assured her. He loved her, he wouldn’t send her if there was any danger.

Turbulence jolted her, and she opened her eyes. It was time to be strong for her family. She would work as required. She would not shame them.







The weeks stretched on like the marks on her hips. Each day an eternity as she cleaned and scoured. Her lodgings had been filthy, but she’d cleaned them. Her hands were rough and cracked from the harsh chemicals she used. Her boss insisted she use them, he swore the fumes wouldn’t harm the baby. Sometimes, she held her breath so long she saw spots, then worried she’d deprived her child of oxygen. But she stuck to it. No one would be sending her back.

The program wasn’t everything she’d expected. There was a place to stay, but it was a slum. There was food provided, though unrecognizable. There was medical care, if the woman who came to them actually was a doctor. The work was exhausting, going from building to building, scrubbing and mopping, day after day. But no one complained.

There were four of them in their room. They could piece together enough English mixed with actions to understand each other. Rachael was the youngest. Her pimple covered face usually held a smile, and Mary found a friend in her. Ruth and Sarah had come from the same country, and shared a quick bond with their native tongue. Mary had been jealous, but knew she’d learn the English faster if she had to use it. They were all young. They were all pregnant, and all of them cried at night.

Mary was the only one married. She missed her husband terribly, and shared stories with Rachael. They collapsed onto their mats at nights, huddled together for warmth. It was then Mary thought of him most. She whispered to Rachael, her only friend in this new life. Rachael told her about the man who’d fathered her child, how he was coming for them. They’d be married here. The women clung to their combined strength, weak as it was.







One night, something woke her. She thought she’d peed in her sleep. The smell was different, though, and she was instantly wide-awake. The fluid surrounded her, soaking her legs.She dipped her fingers in the liquid, and rubbed them together. It was thicker than urine, but not congealing. Sniffing tentatively, her nose detected no metallic scent. Relieved it was not blood, she was confused.

“Rachael, wake up.” Then the pain hit. “Oh no,” Mary hissed through gritted teeth. Realization and fear intensified the contraction.

“Mary?” Rachael turned the light on. Mary lay on her soiled mat, sweat running across her face. She was clenched tightly around the ball of her belly. Fear commanded her features, and her whole body quaked.

“Too early,” she gasped, “go to help.” Rachael ran, while Ruth and Sarah tried to comfort Mary. It was six weeks before her due date. Mary bawled from pain and fear. She cried harder when she realized her husband wouldn’t be with her. He couldn’t possibly have saved enough money yet.

The doctor came, and commanded Mary to a room down the hall. This one held a sagging single bed, and Mary was grateful to lie down.

“Ouch!!” she cried out as the woman’s unkind hand probed her. Feeling sick, she vomited on the floor. The woman yelled something at her, but Mary couldn’t think in English now. The filthy little room smelled of mold and mouse droppings, and blood mixed in with the scent of her lost supper. Women were crowding around her, holding her on the bed, prying her clothes away.

“Rachael?” she searched for the familiar face, found it. Rachael held fast to her friends’ hand, locked eyes with her and murmured soothing sounds.

It was like nothing she’d ever experienced before, and nothing like what she’d expected. She would always remember the heat. Searing heat, scorching lines of fire, and pressure. Bile burned her throat, and soured on her tongue. A blur of faces, soiled linens and a shiny knife.

Rachael was her solid ground. Mary clung to her hand for dear life. Through the terrified screams, and the defeated whimpers. Through the never ending pressure pulling her up, building and building until she was wrenched back to the tiny bed in the tiny room in the tiny house full of hopeful eyes.

Then finally, she was here. Her daughter was born. Mary peered at the bundle, and tried to raise a hand to touch her beautiful face. Concentrating all her effort on moving her arm, she felt her child’s skin, and collapsed.

Mary was alone when she woke. She felt her empty belly, and smiled. It was painful to move, but she craved her daughter. Shuffling along the hall, Mary searched for her. Surely, they would keep her close by? Her husband would be overjoyed. She couldn’t wait to see the baby, and quickened her pace.

“Up and about, are we?” The boss nodded to her.

“Where my baby?” Mary asked. He looked confused. “I see my baby?” she asked again.

“She’s already gone.” Gone? Gone where? Mary shook her head.

“She MY baby. Where she gone?” Moving quickly down the hall, Mary threw open doors, searching. The boss followed.

“She’s not here. Her parents came to get her first thing this morning.” The man looked pleased with himself.

“I her parent.” Panic was building knots in her chest.

“You’re her birth parent. A nice couple came and adopted her.”

Mary quivered with fear and confusion. A single tear led the way down her cheek, and more followed. “How?” was all she could force from her throat.

“The papers you signed before we sent your ticket. What, did you think a little housecleaning would pay for your airfare?” The boss shook his head in disbelief. “You did, didn’t you?”

“I find her. I say we no understand. Where she go?” Mary begged.

“You don’t go causing trouble! Them are nice folks! You start messing around, and immigration will deport you!” He wagged his finger at her nose.

“Yes,” she leveled her face to his, “they like to hear about you, too, no?”

“Get out, and take your stuff with you!”







She found herself alone on the sidewalk. No child filled her belly or her arms. She ached for her daughter, her husband, a second chance. She prayed for a way to fix this… this… disaster. But hope filled her heart.When her husband arrived, they’d find her. She had to believe that. While she waited for him, she’d start looking. Whatever it took, they’d find their stolen child.

pepperlandgirl
04-19-2005, 12:10 AM
Title: Another Man Done Gone
Word Count: 1489 words
Notes: Written for Absolute Write Idol Round 2



“Now listen to me. Are you sure that’s him?”

Anne studied the picture. Two men in dark suits loomed above her. Her eyes darted around the gray room, looking for an escape. But there was only one way out; she needed to hand over a name. Her bladder felt heavy and her head pulsed. She swallowed hard and licked her dry lips.

“I…I…it was hard to see,” she finally said. She shouldn’t have even been there. She should have been in Mrs. Richard’s fourth period Trig class, pretending to take notes on how to find the area of a sphere.

“Look, you said it was him before. Now think. Look at the picture again.” The bald agent shoved the picture under her nose. “Was it him?”

The unfamiliar man staring blankly in the camera resembled Tom Peters, in a vague sort of way that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It definitely wasn’t him. Tom was older, with longer hair and a handsome face. She didn’t know the stranger in the picture.

Anne glanced at the agents and quickly looked away. They seemed so big in the tiny room. The one with black hair…what was his name? Sands? Sams? Something like that. He looked younger than Agent Cue Ball, but no less intimidating. She could see the butt of his gun peaking out from behind his jacket.

“Maybe we should start at the beginning,” he suggested when Anne didn’t respond. “Where were you today at 1:30?”

“I was at the Circle K. Buying gum.” She had actually been charming the clerk into selling her some smokes. Tom had been skimming the magazines and waiting to make his move. He always worked fast. Anne had figured they would be done and out of there in less than five minutes.

“Right. And who were you with?”

“Nobody.” Tom had told her more than once that if anything happened, it would be every man for himself. Anne understood. She also understood that if she didn’t give his name, she faced the very real chance of being booked for something. Accessory? Or was that only for murder? Why didn’t she know this shit?

“Was there anybody else in the store?”

Anne shrugged. “Like I told you before. It was me, some guy, and the clerk. Everything happened so fast. When I heard the first shot, I just hit the ground.” She hadn’t known that Tom was carrying a gun—he usually didn’t need one. He certainly never used one before. Would that make the penalty worse? She suspected it did. God, why hadn’t she at least read a book or something?

“Listen, Ms. Johnson, you are our only witness. You need to tell us everything you remember.”

When she had finally found her legs and peaked over the display of Fritos, the cops had already arrived. Tom was gone. She could see the clerk’s dark red blood against the dirty tiles on the floor and the ambulance in the parking lot.

“Look, are you hungry? Do you need something?” Cue Ball and Sands exchanged a look across the table that she didn’t miss. What did it mean? What were they planning? Had they called her parents? Where was Tom? Her biggest fear was that he was already gone. Fled across state lines. Would that make it a federal case? Was she the most clueless criminal in existence?

“I’m a little hungry,” she said.

“Would you like a burger?” Cue Ball asked.

“Sure…”

He left without another word while Sands pulled up a chair. He sat on it backwards and rested his chin against the top of the backrest, studying her with level eyes until she shifted uncomfortably.

“Anne, I want to be honest with you. Will you be honest with me?”

She nodded and tried to swallow past the lump in her throat.

“You know we’re both with the FBI, right?”

Anne nodded again.

“You know the FBI is not usually called in on convenience store robberies. We usually have bigger things to worry about. Like murder and terrorism. You understand?”

She looked down, unable to bear the intensity of his eyes any longer.

“What I’m trying to tell you is that this is a serious matter. If you can’t give us a name, or at least point us in the right direction, it could have dire consequences. OK?”

“I don’t have…”

He put his hand up. “Shh. Let me finish. Now we have not one, but two witnesses, who claim they saw a young lady—that’s you—enter the store with the man we’re looking for. You know what I think? I think you have the information we need.”

Anne’s stomach sunk to the ground as blood rushed to her face. She couldn’t give them Tom’s name. She couldn’t. He would take care of her if their roles were reversed. Tom trusted her. Tom loved her. When he had walked into her life, she thought she had stepped into a fantasy. An older, handsome, wonderful, intense man had chosen her. Had wanted her. All he wanted from her, all he ever wanted from her, was her silence. She couldn’t hand over his name. She couldn’t let the FBI take him away. Out of her life.

“I don’t know him,” she whispered. She wished she could muster more energy, sound more assertive and forceful. She wished she could call her mother. She wished she could just leave. Why wouldn’t they let her go?

“Anne, I know you’re not a stupid girl. Your mother said you’re at the top of your class.”

“Wait, you talked to her?” Anne straightened. “She knows I’m here? What did she say? Can I talk to her?”

“Of course she knows you’re here. When we arrest sixteen year old girls suspected to be involved in an armed robbery and attempted murder, we typically contact the parents.”

Now the blood rushed from her face. Her mother didn’t know about Tom. If she spoke now, not only would he be arrested, but also her mother would go absolutely fucking ballistic. Her mom didn’t understand anything. She thought Anne was still twelve…no, worse than that, a baby.

“I don’t know anything,” she said again. “Can I go home? I’m tired. I’ve had a long day.”

Sands stood up, and Anne thought he looked sad. “Wait here for a few minutes.”

Anne watched him go and felt tears sting the back of her eyes. They would keep her there forever if she didn’t turn over her boyfriend. But could she live with herself if she did? Would she even be able to get out of bed in the morning, weighed down with the knowledge that she had betrayed Tom? Would she even be able to live? Tom would hate her. No, she wouldn’t be able to live like that. For her own sake, she had to keep her mouth shut.



#



Agent Sands stepped out of the interrogation room and wiped his brow. He hadn’t suspected the girl would be so stubborn. Robertson looked up when he came out and cocked an eyebrow.

“Well?”

“She’s not going to cooperate.”

“I talked to her mother. She’s got nothing. She says she’s never seen him before.”

“I have no doubt he’s been seeing that girl.” No doubt, but no evidence either.

“Why would he get her involved?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe we should bluff and tell her we know about their relationship,” Robertson suggested.

“No, that’ll just put her on the defensive. And we could be wrong.”

“But if we’re wrong, we need to know now.”

“We’re not.”

“Maybe we’ll just have to wait her out. Let her sweat. A few hours without food or a break might be enough to make her talk.”

“We may not have a few hours.” Sands shook his head and poured a cup of stale coffee. He drank it without tasting it. It burned the back of his throat. “We need to find him before Fats does. ”

“She probably doesn’t even know where Peters is.”

Sands nodded, acknowledging the truth of that. After Tom had fled the scene, it was anybody’s guess where he had gone. But the girl who could know wasn’t talking. “She’s our only lead. We’ve got to work with what we have.”

“If Fats gets him first, we’ll be lucky if we even find his head.”

“That girl probably doesn’t have a single fucking clue the mess she’s in.”

“If she’s involved in the mess at all. I think we should tell her.”

Sands shook his head. “No, she needs to tell us how deep she’s in. And soon. ” He looked at the clock and followed the steady red second hand with his eyes.

“Agent Peters is a dead man if we don’t find him. Sands...he's one of ours.”

Sands nodded and loosened his tie. “Go get the girl’s burger. I’m going back in.”

rhymegirl
04-19-2005, 08:19 AM
The Deadline
by Kathryne L. Tirrell



Evelyn was sitting at her desk staring at her computer screen. Stare, stare. Ideas? None. Sleep? Maybe three hours. Deadline? Looming. Coffee? Yeah, baby!

She staggered into the kitchen in search of the coffeepot. Yes, it’s here somewhere. Ought to be easy to find. Just sniff out Mr. Coffee. What a friend he is, old boy. For the perpetually sleep-deprived, a toaster oven might look like a coffee maker. Even a coffee maker might cause confusion. Evelyn had had several mornings when she deposited the ground coffee into the section designated for water. Quite a disaster that was. She was also guilty of putting the eggs in the cupboard, the cereal in the fridge and the milk in the microwave. This morning, however, she successfully completed her mission.

Now that the coffee was brewing she returned to her computer. What to write? She scrunched up her nose, with fingers perched over the keys. An idea popped into her brain and she typed half a word when suddenly a bark from out of the blue stopped her cold.

“Honey! Where’s my white shirt? I told you I needed it today.” Howard stood in the doorway, eyes wide, frantic as usual.

Evelyn slowly turned her head with a look in her eyes that would burn metal.

“Don’t look at me like that. What’s the matter with you? Have you got PMS?”

Evelyn growled at him, baring her teeth. Through clenched teeth she said, “I….have….a….DEADLINE! Find your own shirt!”

Howard backed away. “Okay, okay. Grouch!”

Just as Evelyn turned her head back around, an annoying thought popped into it. Timothy. With a heavy sigh she slid away from her desk.

Flipping the light switch on his bedroom wall, she called, “Rise and shine, Tim!”

A grunt emerged from under the covers.

“I mean it, Tim. I’m not giving you a ride again if you miss that bus. I’ve got work to do!”

“Uhhh-kay.”

Evelyn went to the kitchen and poured coffee into a mug. She added a touch of cream and a spoonful of sugar. After a preliminary sip she began her quest for a box of cereal. Pulling open cupboards she found half-empty boxes of Capn’ Crunch, Fruit Loops and Cheerios. Armed with all three boxes she plopped them on the kitchen table. Let the boy choose. On a return trip she picked up a spoon and some milk. Now for some serious cajoling.

“Tim!!” Evelyn approached the teen’s bed, then stood over him. “Tim! Get up. It’s six-thirty. I mean it. Go eat your breakfast.”

A very drowsy, tousled hair boy said, “Whaaaat?”

Evelyn crossed her arms. “Tim! Wake up. Do you know what time it is? Do you know what day it is?”

With one eye open on his mother, Tim replied, “Sunday?”

“No, it’s Monday! Now get up!”

Tim groaned. “All right, all right. Stop yelling at me.”

Evelyn sighed and walked back into the office. Hopefully that did the trick. The next technique would get a little ugly. “Ah,” she said, sitting down at her computer. “Now where was I?” She remembered what that half word was and continued to type. With a few sentences down, Evelyn was feeling pretty good. But a howl from the other room made her hands jump off the keyboard. What now?

“MOM! Where’s my math homework? You didn’t throw it out, did you?” Tim was flinging newspapers and couch pillows around the living room.

Evelyn handed him some papers.

“Where were these? I left them in here last night.”

“No you didn’t,” Evelyn said, shaking her head. “They were on your bureau. Now eat your cereal and get moving.”

“I don’t like any of that stuff. I don’t have time anyway.” Tim disappeared into the bathroom. Evelyn glanced over at the cereal boxes and unused bowl. Calm yourself, woman. He’s only a kid.

Evelyn and Howard nearly collided rounding the corner to their bedroom. He was rushing out, tying his tie over a very wrinkled shirt. Evelyn entered the bedroom, but immediately forgot why she’d gone in there. Only one thought was in her mind. He’s not going to work like THAT!

“HOWARD!” Evelyn scurried back into the kitchen. “Take off that shirt. I’ll iron it for you.”

“No, it’s fine, don’t bother.” Howard poured himself some coffee. “Have you seen my keys?”

“You’re not wearing that wrinkled shirt. Hand it over.” Evelyn stomped her foot.

Reluctantly, Howard removed his shirt and tossed it to his wife. “I need it pronto, honey. I’m gonna be late as it is. Keys? Know where they are?”

Evelyn was having trouble unfolding the ironing board. “You garl darn dang blasted piece of crap!” she said to it. “Howard, I told you I need a new ironing board. This thing never opens right and it’s really tipsy.” She finally got it set up and the iron plugged in. “Did you check your coat pocket? Maybe next to your computer? I don’t know where they are.”

Howard went in search of his keys while Evelyn ironed. Tim blew past her a number of times assembling his school stuff. On the last fly by he yelled, “See ya!” and flew out the door.

“Bye!” Evelyn shouted as she finished up the shirt. “Okay, Howard, it’s ready.”

Howard slipped on his shirt, kissing her on the cheek. “Thanks, honey. Found my keys. They were in my coat pocket. Gotta go. See you tonight around six.”

With Howard and Tim gone, the house was suddenly quiet. “Ah,” said Evelyn. “Peace at last.”

Back at her computer, Evelyn studied the words on the monitor. This is crap, she thought, deleting everything she’d written. Maybe I’ll come up with something while I’m in the shower.

After a nice fifteen-minute shower, Evelyn was toweling off, smiling to herself. I’ve got it now, she thought. Just grab a little toast and then it’s back to business. The phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Evelyn,” said a breezy voice. “You’re not busy today, are you?”

“Hi, ma. Well, actually, I have to write a….”

“Good! I need a ride to my doctor’s appointment. I’m sorry for the short notice. Carol cancelled on me last night, I guess the baby’s sick again. But I knew you could do it since you’re home during the day. I need to be there for 9.”

Evelyn closed her eyes, but said nothing.

“Evelyn? Are you there? Did you hear me?”

“Yeah, ma, I heard you. I’ll pick you up at 8:30.”

After dressing and throwing on a little makeup, Evelyn hurried out the door. She dropped her keys a few times trying to juggle her pocketbook, umbrella and the heavy hardcover novel she intended to read while sitting in the waiting room. Tossing everything but the keys into the back seat of her Camry, she climbed in, gunned the engine and drove off to pick up her mother who was waiting outside on her porch.

“It’s going to rain, dear,” said Evelyn’s mother. “I hope you brought your umbrella.”

“I’ve got it, ma. So, where to? Is this the eye doctor, the allergy doctor, the foot doctor, the skin doctor, the hemorrhoid doctor or the…”

“The regular doctor, Evelyn. And don’t talk about hemorrhoids. It’s not polite.”

A few hours later, Evelyn was back home at her computer. Forgetting her umbrella in the back seat, she’d gotten soaked when it started pouring on the walk back to her car from the doctor’s office. She hadn’t been able to park anywhere near the place and her mother constantly complained about that fact every step of the way. Upon arriving home, Evelyn ditched her wet clothes and wrapped herself up in a bathrobe, also donning some matching fluffy slippers—her favorite writing attire. Nervously, she tapped the keys, not typing, just thinking. Thinking, thinking. Her thought process had been thrown off, interrupted, and she couldn’t retrieve the idea that had first bubbled up in the shower. The deadline for her first article was 12 noon, one hour away, and she had nothing to show her editor. Guess it wasn’t meant to be, she thought sadly. Who am I kidding? I’m just too scatterbrained, too much of a people pleaser who can’t say no to anyone to make it as a freelance writer. If only I could have another chance, if only I had more time.

With a heavy sigh, Evelyn clicked out of Microsoft Word and opened up her e-mail. Oh, how nice! One of her friends had sent her one of those funny e-cards that always made her smile. She accidentally clicked on the e-mail from her editor instead. She read the words once, twice. Oh Evelyn, you silly twit. The due date for her article was staring her in the face-- April 11. Today was April 1st.

Evelyn chuckled. “Well, how about that? I guess the joke’s on me!”

jdkiggins
04-19-2005, 09:02 AM
Fading Into the Past


by


Joanne D. Kiggins





Mom’s gaze riveted to the bowl in front of her.

“I’m sorry.”

“OK Mom, tell me what you’re talking about here, because I’m lost.”

“That time I slapped you. I’m sorry.”

“Are you talking about when I was in high school?”

She looked confused.

“It wasn’t that long ago, was it?”

“Yes, Mom. That happened 36 years ago. What in the world made you think of that now?”

“I don’t know. I just did and I don’t know if I ever said I’m sorry, so I wanted you to know I am.”

I walked over to where mom was sitting, kissed the top of her head and hugged her.

“Thanks, Mom. We straightened that out right after it happened. Forget about it.”

“As long as you know I’m sorry.”

“I know, Mom. And I’m sorry, too.”

“Are you going to be here for awhile? I think I’m going to take a nap.”

“Sure, Mom. I’ll finish the laundry while you rest.”

Mom went into her room and I tossed another batch of clothes into the washer. I thought of all the conversations she and I’d had in the past few days. What triggered the thought of that day so many years ago?


* * *

It was the first and only time either of my parents ever laid a hand on me. I was on the phone with my best friend Gale who had just told me she was pregnant. Gale knew I could discuss anything with my mom so she asked me how she should break the news to her mother.


“I don’t know how you should tell your mom that your pregnant, but you need to tell her before you start showing.”

My mom walked by the hall a few times tidying the house during my discussion with Gale. I thought nothing of it.

“I have to tell her I’m pregnant and tell her I won’t be finishing school.”

“You can finish this year.”

“Not really. I’ve been wearing loose clothes. I’m five months already.”

“What? Are you sure? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me before this.”

“I just found out. I only missed one period and that was this month. The doctor said there are some women who don’t miss their menstrual cycle for some reason.”

“You’re joking, right? They never said anything like that in sex education.”

“Tell me about it. I don’t know what to do.”

“What did Jim say?”

“He wants to get married. My mom just came home,” she whispered. “I didn’t read the book yet for English class so I’m going to be rushed to write that book report by next week.”

“Yeah, I’m in the same boat.” I tapped the pen against the phone. “Gale, I know you can’t talk about it now, but you have to tell her soon.”

My mom walked by again and I smiled and waved at her.

As soon as I was off the phone I rushed into the kitchen to tell my mom the news about Gale and ask her how she thought Gale should tell her mom. Dishes clattered, pots and pans clanged, and the look on my mom’s face could have wilted lettuce.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

She dried her hands and threw the dishtowel on the sink.

“I’m calling the doctor.”

“Why? Are you sick?”

“No. I want to know if you’ve been messing around.”

“Messing around. What are you talking about?”

“I heard you and Gale talking. She’s pregnant, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, that’s what I came in to tell you.”

Mom reached for the phone and began to dial.

“I’m having the doctor check you to see if you’ve had sex.”

“I haven’t had sex and I’m not going to the doctor.”

“Oh yes you are.”

“No, I’m not. I can’t believe you’d do that. If my word isn’t good enough, too bad.” I pushed the button on the phone to disconnect the call.

In two quick motions mom slammed the receiver in place and slapped my face. I’m not sure what stunned me more; her thinking I’d had sex, wanting a doctor to check me, or her slapping me. I stormed off and ran upstairs to my room angry because she had insulted my integrity. For nearly 17 years I’d been able to talk to my mom about anything. All of the sudden I found her doubting me. Not only doubting my word but also the relationship she and I had. That hurt the most.

I sat in my room for an hour angry and hurt. It wasn’t until I’d run through my mind the conversation I’d had with Gale that I’d realized why mom was so upset. She felt I’d betrayed our relationship as well.

She stood in the kitchen staring out the window. Plates, silverware and cups were scattered on the table.

“Mom. I’m sorry I talked back to you. You don’t need to make an appointment with the doctor. I promise you I haven’t done anything.”

“How can I be sure?”

“Because I tell you everything. I was coming into the kitchen to tell you about Gale when I saw you were upset about something.”

“Of course I’m upset.”

“You don’t need to be, Mom. You only heard my side of the conversation.”

“That was enough.”

“No, it wasn’t. You didn’t know that Gale and I had gone from talking about her being pregnant to having to hurry to get a book report finished.”

“What does a book report have to do with this?”

“Everything, Mom. You heard me tell Gale ‘I don’t know how you should tell your mom you’re pregnant’.”

“Yeah and I heard you say ‘I’m in the same boat’.”

“Yes, Mom, but you didn’t hear the part about both of us still needing to read a book for a report that’s due next week. So after hearing ‘pregnant’ and then ‘in the same boat,’ you assumed I was pregnant too, and I’m not.”

“Are you sure?” She adjusted the place settings. Her hands shook.

“Mom. You have to have sex to get pregnant. So yes, I’m sure I’m not pregnant. And yes, I’m sure I haven’t had sex.”

“Oh honey, I’m so relieved. I don’t know how we would have told your dad.”

“I’m sorry I mouthed off to you, Mom.”

“I’m sorry I slapped you.”


* * *

Mom woke up from her nap and came into the laundry room as I finished folding the last basket of clean clothes. Her eyes were as bright as her smile.

“Oh, honey, thank you for doing the laundry. What would I do without you?”

“You’re welcome, Mom. Don’t worry, you won’t ever be without me.”

The conversation mom and I had before her nap had slipped her mind. I marveled as to what might have triggered a memory from so many years ago and I am thankful that was the only disagreement we’d ever had.

We sat in the kitchen, had a cup of tea, and talked about flowers and gardening.

“How’s Stacey and Quenton?” she asked.

It was then I realized my daughter’s pregnancy and the birth of my grandson sparked her memory of years gone by. I find myself watching her expressions and her eyes to let me know if she has drifted off to reminisce. I wonder how many more trips down memory lane I’ll be taking as mom’s mind fades into the past?

firehorse
04-19-2005, 05:29 PM
Aw, dude. All I wanted was the bonus.

My bud Dougie Schmidt found the ad in the San Diego Reader: “Make Yourself Useful. Donors wanted – $5000 bonus.” Five grand? Dude!

See, my dad kicked me out three months ago. Called it my birthday present, said I was 21 and needed to “contribute to society” instead of hanging surfside all day. Won’t let me come home or see my little bro, Jay, till I can pay rent. Been crashing on Dougie’s couch ever since, except some nights when I sleep on the beach. I’m a Pisces, you know, like serious water person. Emotional.

I was bleak. Couldn’t get a job, seeing as I had no experience or education, except high school. It was weird: I started seeing signs all over the city – bus shelters, taxis tops, light poles. They said “Be of Service” and the one in the ad, “Make Yourself Useful.” I thought maybe it was a message from God, so when Dougie found that ad about the bonus, I knew it was totally a sign. Plus, my dad would be stoked that I was “contributing to society.”


“Dude, if it’s such sweet cash, why don’t you do it?” I asked Doug.

“Some weird blood thing in my family. I can’t.”

“Bummer.”

“You should wear a suit,” he said.

“Why?”

“For five grand, dude, you want to ace it, you better look professional.”

“Dude, I don’t have a suit.”

“I’ll lend you mine.”


I don’t know what Dougie does, but I never seen him work and he’s always got cash. Don’t ask, don’t tell. He was cool with me crashing, but I could tell he was ready for me to bag it. I’m psychic like that.

Made the appointment, dressed up and went to a big shiny building downtown.


Receptionist was mondo hottie, all blonde and boobs.

“So, this donor thing a good gig?” I asked.

“Nobody’s ever left unhappy,” she said, smiling.

“Cool.” The radio was on some oldies station, with that Eagles song Hotel California. “You can check out any time you like…”

“You can go in now,” she said.


On a big-ass desk was a nameplate that said Alfred Macklin. Old dude, like 40, real pale, seriously damaged toupee.

“So, Matthew, you want to be a donor.”

“Way, dude… Sir... Sir Dude.”

Macklin tilted his head. “Interesting suit.”

“Yeah,” I looked at the powder-blue pants. “Sorry about the ruffles.”
He scoped me out some more.

“You look in good shape.”

“Yeah, I rip on dawn patrol.” He stared at me. “And, uh, I play Ultimate.”

He leaned back in his fancy chair and chewed his pen. “Why are you here?”

I wasn’t about to say, “Gimme the check, dude,” so I said, “I want to help other people.”

He pointed to a vase. “Do these flowers bother you?” Didn’t look like flowers to me, just goldenrod and shit. I knew that because my mom, before she left, she used to teach me all about that kind of stuff.

“Nah, not at all.”

A big white cat jumped on my lap, rubbing fur onto Dougie’s prom tux. Macklin was still writing when he said, “Animals have been clinically shown to have a calming influence. They’re good to have around the office. I deal with many very ill people; pets increase their perceived quality of life.”

“Sure.” What-ev.

Macklin looked up. “So you’re not allergic?”

“No.”

I was dying to ask about the bonus, and like he was telepathic, he pulled out a leather binder and wrote a check. He tore it out and handed it to me. The name and signature were blank, but it was for five grand, all right.

“As soon as you sign the contract, the check is yours.” Macklin pressed a button on his telephone. “Carol, I need the paperwork and the clothes.” He looked at me. “Medium.”

The hottie from reception came in, winked at me and gave dude a fancy clipboard. She handed me sweats and a bright orange t-shirt that said “Donor.” She leaned way over, I got her boobs and he got her butt. Sweeeet. Macklin wrote some things and handed it to me.

“Just sign by the red X.” I did.

When he had the clipboard again, he took the check, filled the rest of it in, folded it and handed it to me. I put it in my pocket right away. Wanted to make sure I didn’t lose it.

“Oh, one more thing. Anyone I should contact in case of emergency?” What, like if I pass out? Dude, just bring on the OJ and Oreos.

“Even if I kicked it, doubt nobody would even notice, ’cept maybe my bud Dougie.” He grinned. Kinda gave me the creeps.

He pulled out a box of cigars and opened it towards me.

“No thanks, I don’t smoke.”

“These are Cubans,” he said. I shrugged, and the jacket bunched up on my back a little.

“Nah, I just don’t like it. No offense.” He almost seemed to smile as he tucked the box back into his desk.

“None taken.” He nodded toward the clothes in my lap. “You have to change into that.”

“Now?”

“Yes, we have to run some tests.”

Fine by me. Already got paid. Good thing the sweats had one of those coin pockets. I wasn’t letting that check out of my sight.


After I changed, he took me into the next room – it was like a gym.

“Many of our employees work out during lunchtime.” He pointed to the treadmill, and as soon as I was in place, he wrapped a band around my chest. “Just a heart rate monitor.” He started me at a jog, then a run, then a running-like-the-Devil pace. I thought I was gonna die. What did this have to do with donating blood? Now Carly Simon was on the radio, belting out: “You belong to me…”

“So when do I donate?”

“After we conclude the tests.”

“Wow, you’re thorough. At the drugstore, you can just walk in.”

“The drugstore?” he laughed. “You’ve got a good sense of humor, son.”


Before I went to towel off, he said, “I’ll need to get a urine sample.”

“No, man, I don’t do drugs.”

“Actually it’s for liver and kidney function.” Huh? What-ever, dude. For five grand, I’ll take a leak anywhere you want.


“I’ve got a place where you can cool down.”

I hated cold – shit, I live in SoCal, right? – but I figured I should do what dude said. Macklin walked me down this long hall into what looked like a cafeteria room, but smaller. It smelled like a hospital. At the far end, he opened a massive door, and a wave of icy-freakin’-cold hit me.

“Can you handle this?”

“Sure.” Not.

“Go on in, relax a bit,” he said. “Then we’ll get going.”

“It’s kinda dark in there.”

“How’s your night vision?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”


The hairs in my nose froze. It was fucking freezing. There was just a tiny bit of light from the emergency bulb. Once my eyes adjusted, I looked around. All I saw were freezers, everywhere. Like, what does this have to do with giving blood? Just fucking do it already, and let me out of here so I can cash my check.

Something was weird. Told you I’m sensitive, right? I opened one of the freezers and it hit me: when Macklin said “so you want to be a donor,” he wasn’t making small talk; he was making a job offer.

That’s when I yakked. I pounded on the door, and I screamed. It was locked solid. I fingered the $5,000 check in my pocket, and I prayed like nobody’s business.

It seemed like days I pounded on that door. The shivers came, and they were bad. I tried moving around, but I was afraid I’d miss the one time someone could hear me. I listened for something, any sign.
Eventually, just when I was starting to give up hope, I heard a voice. The voice even got loud enough that I recognized it.

“Dougie? Dude?” I shouted.

“Hey dude.”

“Help me outta here!”

“No can do, dude. Sorry.”

“Whaddaya mean, sorry?” There was a long pause.

“Look at the check, man.”

What the fuck did that have to do with anything? I pulled it out, unfolded it and went over where the emergency light was – by a freezer marked “pancreas” – to read it. Pay to the order of Doug Schmidt. Aw, dude.

BlueTexas
04-21-2005, 04:29 AM
1130 words.

I saw him. I know I saw him. It was real. He was as real as I am right now.


(snipped-subbed)



I want to set her free.

trumancoyote
04-22-2005, 05:21 AM
See that smoke there? Spinning up by the “Steve’s Espresso” sign. Yeah, that. Follow it down, down… there you are. That’s Jonah, and he’s smoking a Parliament and sipping an Americano on the patio of his favorite café.

A pair of women—one black, one white—come from around the corner and head toward the café door. When the white one reaches for the handle, she pauses, then pulls back her hand.

“Honey. Niggers hold the door.”

The other laughs and shoos her friend in; a white-hot knuckle curls in Jonah’s throat.

Did she say nigger? Niggers hold the door?!

No, no… she couldn’t have.

He sips his coffee and concentrates on its heat. But two cigarettes later, he’s still bothered by it.

The thing is, he knows she didn’t actually say it: he just heard it. And that’s the problem, because why? Why would he hear such an awful thing?

Wind picks up out of nowhere and leaves begin to twitter and scrape their way along the cement. Jonah sits back, sinks into his past like sand and hears his mother laughing.

“Germans?! Is that what they told you?”

“Yeah. They said they’re from Germany. Why are you laughing like that?” Jonah was eleven and telling his mom about the new kid down the street.

“Honey, they’re Ay-rabs. Look at their skin! And the mother, she even has one of those dots on her head, for Cripe’s sake.”

“But why would they lie about that?”

“Dark people do strange things, sweetie. You’d best keep your distance.”

But he didn’t want to! And now he definitely couldn’t tell her about the magic of the German’s walnut tree.

Earlier that day he had lain up against it with his new friend.

“Mahir, what kind of tree is this?”

Mahir rolled his head lazily to the side. “A magic one,” he mumbled from the corner of his mouth.

“Shutup. What is it really?”

“I’m serious! It’s magic.”

“It looks like a walnut tree to me,” Jonah said, sitting up to look his friend in the eye.

“It is a walnut tree. A magic one.”

“What’s so magic about it?”

Mahir’s eyes got sneaky and he smirked, saying, “It grants wishes.”

“What kind?”

“Any kind. You have to put your head up against it and whisper your wish three times. Then climb up and pick a walnut.”

“Then what?”

“Then you eat it! And your wish comes true.”

Jonah sat back and rolled his eyes. “How do you know?”

“I’ve done it and my wish came true.”

“What’d you wish?”

“I can’t tell you. Otherwise it won’t come true.”

It sounded convincing enough. After all, Jonah didn’t really know much about magic trees, so who was he to question someone who clearly did?

“Can I try?”

“Sure, but don’t tell me your wish. I’ll plug my ears.”

As Mahir jammed his thumbs in his ears Jonah coughed out: ball-licker. Mahir didn’t laugh, so Jonah knew he wasn’t listening. He then pressed his forehead against the trunk of the tree; the itchy bark puffed up little goosebumps on his neck. He checked one more time to see if Mahir was listening, then closed his eyes and, though slightly embarrassed, whispered three times:

I wish that Mahir could be my new friend forever.
I wish that Mahir could be my new friend forever.
IwishMahircouldbemynewfriendforever.

Jonah pulled back and scratched his head, hesitating. Mahir nodded: “Now climb up the tree and get a walnut!”

He clambered up the trunk with some difficulty and straddled the crotch of its branches. Reaching out as far as he could, Jonah felt the dizziness of vertigo—of nothing but sunburnt grass beneath him. He plucked a fat and dull yellow fruit from the nearest branch, then sat back and dug his fingernail deep into its meat to find the nut.

It was sticky inside and it stained his hand a dark brown. When Jonah at last reached the nut with his thumb, he pulled it out and smashed it against the trunk of the tree. Thinking of his wish, he shucked the shell to the side and curled his tongue around the nut. Chewing and swallowing: it tasted green.

From above: “Hey, Mahir!”

Mahir looked up—a blur of color streaked past his face and hit the ground. Jonah looked him in the eyes with sweat tracing down his jaw line, and smiled. “Forget this stupid kid stuff. Let’s go throw rocks at birds.”

But that was that. Listening later as he did to his mom’s warnings, Jonah decided to ask Mahir about that German business. And what he found out the next day at school, he was more than proud to tell his mother.

“Mom, guess what! I talked to Mahir today.”

“Who?”

“Mahir. And I found out that he is German. He was born there, but his parents are from Bageldish—I think—and they say that they don’t believe in Jesus and that hamburgers are gross, and—”

“He said what?—” His mother’s ears were closed at Jesus.

“That they don’t like hamburgers. American f—”

“No. No, Jonah. Jesus. You said they don’t believe in Jesus.”

“Well, yeah. They don’t really have him in their country. And they kinda’ believe, just not that he’s God’s son and—”

“Jesus is everywhere, Jonah.”

“Huh?”

“Jesus is everywhere. And for someone to walk on His earth and still be able to ignore Truth, I just, I…”—her arms were spread dangerously akimbo—“You’re not to talk to this, this… these people anymore. You hear?”

Jonah never answered. From day one in his life there was this implicit threat of Hell in everything his mom said. Whether it was touching himself or sleeping in church, or now, with the Germans, she’d get worked up and Jonah could smell sulfur in the air—so, invariably, he did what she said without a word.

A man now, Jonah is staring at nothing and wondering where his childhood went.

He can still see the confused look in Mahir’s eyes. Jonah had passed him by at school that next day and everyday thereafter, without so much as acknowledging his presence nor ungluing his eyes from the ground.

It was his mother’s fault back then; but letting that sort of thing follow him into adulthood is his own fault. Jonah knows that something from his mom had stuck: why else would he have heard that woman say nigger?

He doesn’t want it. He doesn’t want to think like that, and he’s got a lot of work to do with himself.

Jonah returns to his Americano. Leaning back in that metal café seat, his chest is tense.

Mahir…mahirmahir. Whatever happened to you?

And he finds himself back up in the walnut tree—reaching, reaching.

William Haskins
04-22-2005, 07:07 AM
The Big Table



by William Haskins



I shoved the last of the Christmas gifts into the trunk of the car and climbed into the backseat beside my little brother, Matt.

Mom scurried out the front door, balancing a casserole dish between two oven mitts, and slid into the front seat, twisting the rearview mirror so she could wipe lipstick off her teeth with her index finger.

“Remember what I told y’all,” she warned us. “Mind your manners.”

Dad settled behind the wheel and spun around, drawing a bead on me: “And you… be nice to the little ones.”

I sulked up and stared out the window almost all the way to my grandparents’ house. I was tired of getting stuck with my brother and cousin every holiday. Why the hell couldn’t they entertain themselves? I was a teenager now, and nobody gave a damn.

And I just knew that, when the adults all sat down to Christmas dinner, I’d be stuck at the little table… with the kids.

The dead-winter fields flew past me in a blur of brown and white, and I leaned my head against the window and fell asleep.


*****


I knew before I opened my eyes that we were lumbering up the long gravel driveway, which I was convinced had been designed to give my grandparents sufficient time to get outside, where they could watch visitors arrive with the stoic gaze of the old couple in Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

I hugged Granny and shook Papaw’s hand (snatching mine away before his leather-grip clamped down on it: “Bear trap!”), then turned to the sound of the battered pickup truck winding up the driveway.

Aunt Laurie, tall and slender and widowed much too young, stepped out first, wearing dark sunglasses. Her 8 year-old, Jimmy, barreled past her, giggling as his Papaw got him: “Bear trap!”

Finally, from the driver’s seat emerged Earl Birdsong, Aunt Laurie’s boyfriend. He cast his eyes downward as he shook Dad and Papaw’s hands, and I was reminded of one of my father’s favorite gems: “A man who can’t look you in the eye is a piece of shit.”

I felt sorry for Earl. He had the look of a man beaten down by life, and no one in the family had ever given him much of a chance. Laurie’s first husband, Ben, was only two years dead and had been loved by everyone. All Earl had ever known was small talk and suspicious eyes. As we shuffled into the warmth of the house, Earl followed meekly, hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Once inside, Laurie removed her sunglasses. The gasp was audible when we saw the deep, blue-yellow bruise around her eye and the stitched cut that ran from the inside of her brow to the bridge of her nose. Mom and Granny pulled her into the kitchen, questions flying frantically from both sides.

Dad and Papaw stared at Earl, and then exchanged a look that chilled me to my core.

“How long till dinner?” I blurted out awkwardly.

“Go outside,” Dad grumbled.


*****


The smell of roasted turkey filled the house by the time Papaw called us in. We washed up and filed into the dining room, where the big oak dining table—ancient and sturdy and surrounded by dignified high-back chairs—was covered with every holiday food imaginable.

The adults took their places, and I was left exactly where I knew I’d be: at that goddamn gray-beige card table on wobbly aluminum legs.

I wedged my knees under the flimsy tabletop and picked at the cold pile of food on my paper plate.

No one said much as they ate. Papaw and Dad occasionally glanced at one another as if holding a telepathic conversation. Mom and Granny went out of their way to be deferential to Aunt Laurie, who tried in vain to cover her injuries with seemingly casual waves of her hand. For his part, Earl looked like a puppy eating out of a big dog’s dish—hunger tempered by paranoia.

Soon, the women were clearing dishes and wrapping up leftovers. Matt and Jimmy bolted outside, and Earl followed them onto the front porch and lit a cigarette.

Dad pulled Mom aside and whispered to her under his breath.

“It’s none of your business,” she snapped at him. “If she wanted you to know, she’d tell you herself. Now let it be.”

Mom stormed back into the kitchen, and Dad and Papaw exchanged another ominous look. Clenching his pipe between his teeth, Papaw nodded and disappeared into his bedroom. Dad followed.

“Get your jacket on,” he said over his shoulder.

I slipped on my jacket and went outside to wait for them. Earl took a final drag off his smoke and crunched it out under his shoe.

“Some dinner, huh?” he said.

“I guess so,” I answered.

Dad and Papaw emerged, each clutching two rifles, and Dad handed me one of them.

“Keep that safety on, y’hear?”

I took the rifle in my hands and smiled. Maybe they’ve finally noticed I’m not a kid anymore.

Papaw held one of the guns out to Earl.

“What’s this for?”

“Saw some deer tracks down by the creek,” Papaw answered. “Reckon it’s time to bag him.”


*****


We walked in silence through the fields—Earl and me up front, Papaw and Dad behind us. As we neared the creek, I turned to ask where Papaw had seen the tracks, just as Dad’s size-12 cowboy boot delivered a swift kick to Earl’s lower back.

Earl went down hard and pulled himself up onto his knees, eyes wild and confused. But before he could speak, Papaw cracked him in the teeth with the butt of his rifle.

“You like beatin’ up my little girl, you bastard?”

Earl shook his head violently. “I never touched her!”

Dad grabbed him by a shock of his black hair and pulled his head back. “Look me in the eye, you sonofabitch! You hit my sister?”

“No!” bellowed Earl, a mixture of snot and blood dripping off his lip. “I swear to God!”

“You’re a goddamned liar,” Papaw seethed.

I looked up at my grandfather and saw a stranger. Eyes dead-black and merciless. And he turned them on me.

“Time to be a man,” he said from a million miles away. “Time to avenge your blood.”

A wave of nausea swept over me.

“No!” Earl screamed. “You don’t understa—”

Dad kicked him square in the chest.

“Listen to your Papaw, son. Don’t you never let nobody hurt your family. Ever.”

I looked at the rifle in my hands and then up at my father. “I… can’t.”

He wrapped his arms around me and cocked the gun. “Do it,” he said coldly.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I blinked in the cold wind. I leveled the rifle at Earl, and he held up a trembling hand, as if to ward off his fate.

I stared down the sight, my head spinning as I tried to figure a way out of this madness. That’s when I felt that leather-grip hand clamp down on my shoulder.

The sharp crack of the gunshot rang in my ears.


*****


Aunt Laurie’s mournful sobs filled the house as Papaw stood out on the porch, explaining Earl’s hunting accident to the sheriff.

“One helluva day for something like this to happen,” the sheriff sighed. “It’s a damn shame.”

“I reckon I shoulda warned him,” Papaw said. “That creek bed gets slick in the wintertime.”

The sheriff shook his head sadly. “That’s all I need, I guess. Give my condolences.”

And that was it. He just walked away and got into his car.

Dad came out of the kitchen with two plates piled with food. “Come on, son. You need to eat.”

He set the plates down on the big, oak table and slid out a chair for me. I sat down and he lowered himself into the chair beside me, just as Papaw came back inside.

“I better show the ‘em where the body is,” he announced.

Aunt Laurie shrieked, and Papaw grabbed her by the shoulders, scanning the injuries on her face.

“How the hell can you shed tears over a man who would do this to you?”

Mom and Granny stared at him in disbelief.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Laurie screamed. “Earl didn’t do this!”

Papaw went pale and swallowed hard. “He didn’t do that to your eye?”

“He never touched me!” Laurie lunged at him. “I was raped! Are you happy now, goddammit?”

Dad got up from the table, and he and Papaw walked out onto the front porch.

Laurie buried her face in Granny’s chest and cried, while Mom stroked her hair and told her it was going to be okay.

I watched them from the shadows of the dining room, the heavy oak pressing into my chest and my feet barely touching the hardwood floor, and I felt incredibly small.

I knew it would never be okay.