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JennaGlatzer
06-17-2005, 09:44 AM
Congratulations to the final three.

Your setting this week is a birthday party.

William, your main character is a 90-year-old woman.

Firehorse, your main character is a 40-year-old man.

DJP, your main character is an 8-year-old boy.

No word count requirements.

Deadline: Saturday, June 25, 11 p.m. ET.

Good luck!

DJP
06-26-2005, 04:49 AM
DROPS OF ALMOND

by Darla Paskell







It was the biggest birthday party Danesville had ever seen. Half the town turned up carrying potluck dishes and wearing their Sunday best. Tables creaked under the weight of potato salads, taco salads, home made rolls and gooey desserts. Five barbeques smoked and sizzled in the back alley, sending mouthwatering aromas wafting around the blue and silver decorations. Kevin sat between his parents, tugging at his tie. He was bored, bored, bored, but he wouldn’t stay that way for long.

The vocal buzz in the hall dimmed as Danny walked in. Six foot two, wiry, he seemed to be carried more on attitude than muscle. Though only fifteen, he possessed something most people never acquired. Some called it arrogance, some called it cocky, Kevin Arneson called it awesome.

“When did he get out?” Kevin whispered to his Mom as they watched Danny strut through the room.

“I didn’t know he was.” Mrs. Arneson sounded less than pleased to see her nephew once again free from juvenile detention. Kevin slid out of his seat and hurried to the guys can. His older brothers were in the last stall, sharing a stolen Pilsner and scratching cuss words onto the tan metal walls.

“Danny’s here!” Kevin’s announcement sent the two older boys scurrying like ants around a freshly stomped hill. They all ran back to the party in time to see Grandpa Joseph slap Danny on the back, welcoming him.

“Danny, good to see you!” Grandpa Joseph was one of the few who could say that truthfully. He’d always favored Danny, and the kid was kind to him in return.

“I wouldn’t miss your birthday, Grandpa.” Danny smiled. Kevin couldn’t make out the rest of the conversation, and maneuvered closer. When he got there, Grandpa Joseph had left, and Danny stood alone.

“Hey Kevin, how ya doin’?” Was Danny addressing him, the little eight-year-old nobody cousin?

“OK.”

“I need you to do something for me.” Danny said.

“Me? You need me to do something for you?”

“Yeah, you understand English, right?” Kevin could only nod. Danny leaned in close. Kevin smelled the leather from his jacket and the stale stench of uncared for teeth. “You know my Dad, right? Uncle Arnie?”

“Yea, he’s my Dads brother.”

“Right. He doesn’t want much to do with me right now, but I’d like to give him something. Think you could do that for me?” Kevin nodded again. “Good.”

The pair slid onto cheap plastic chairs at an abandoned corner table. Kevin watched Danny pull a small bottle from his pocket, sheltering it in his fight-scarred hand. It was clear, and housed a clear fluid.

“What’s that?” Kevin soaked up Danny’s every move.

“This is what I want you to give my old man.” Danny grinned, “A little payback. The old fart called the cops after I pummeled that last guy, and landed me back in juvie.” Danny scowled across the room. The lights dimmed, and the music started. They watched a few couples take the floor for an old time waltz.

Sweat trickled past Kevin’s temple. What was in that bottle? How could he give it to Uncle Arnie? More importantly, how could he not? He couldn’t say no to Danny.

“What will it do?” Kevin asked.

“Embarrass him. Give him gas so bad it’ll blow the @ss out of his pants.” They watched Uncle Arnie glide across the floor, sweeping Auntie June along. He looked so graceful. Kevin pictured Uncle Arnie with a bloated belly, burping like a walrus, running to the bathroom with his butt cheeks squeezed together. Kevin giggled. He’d never liked Uncle Arnie, with his cigar smell and his greasy hair.

“I’m in. But how do I give it to him?” Kevin wiggled in anticipation. This birthday bash was getting interesting.

“Good kid,” Danny punched Kevin’s nonexistent bicep, “I’ve got it all figured out.” The two were so engrossed in their plans, they didn’t notice Kevin’s mother until she spoke. The poor boys jumped three inches.

“What are you two up to?” Mrs. Arneson narrowed her eyes at Danny.

“Just telling a few jokes to keep the little cuz entertained.” Danny didn’t even flinch as the lie floated past his lips.

“Make sure you keep them clean, young man.” She gazed at Kevin, “Want to come dance with me?”

“Mo-om, I’m busy here.” Kevin said.

“Just mind your p’s and q’s.” She left him with a warning look, and Kevin flushed.

“Don’t worry, nobody’s gonna catch us. Your Mom wouldn’t believe her little angel could do anything wrong, anyway.” Danny said.

“I do stuff wrong!” Kevin defended himself, grabbing the bottle. “Give me that.”

“Just remember,” Danny held fast, “wait for the butterfly dance to steal his flask.” He laughed as Kevin almost toppled from his chair when Danny let go.

Kevin wandered around the party, steering clear of his mother. As the night progressed, booze freed the adults from their everyday inhibitions. The dancers shook everything they had, the jokes turned crude, and the laughter came from their guts. Before Kevin weighed the consequences enough to lose his nerve, he heard the butterfly begin.

Scurrying to his Uncle’s chair, he almost collided with the man.

“Watch yourself.” Uncle Arnie pulled off his suit jacket, and hung it over the chair back. “Stay off the dance floor, young man. Someone your size could get their skull cracked open.”

“Yes sir.” Kevin said. He watched his Uncle pair up with Auntie June and Aunt Nora, and the three hopped around the floor until the chorus hit. Suddenly, every dancer was a high speed, spin-you-off-your-feet nasty collision waiting to happen. The excitement gave Kevin the opportunity he needed.

“Come on, come on.” Searching for the flask, Kevin fought to control his shaking hands. He tried not to think about what his mother would do if he got caught. Finding what he sought, Kevin twisted off the lid and gagged on the harsh whiskey scent. He dug the little clear bottle out of his pocket, and added its entire contents to the liquor. Danny’s revenge smelled like cherries, and Kevin resisted the urge to taste it. He quickly replaced the tops, and had everything completed before the song was through.

‘Done.’ Kevin mouthed to Danny as he reclaimed a chair at his parents’ table. The older boy nodded his satisfaction from a few tables away, and the two sat back to watch the show.

Kevin saw his Uncle retrieve his suit jacket. Puffing and panting, he headed for the washroom. Kevin knew that’s where he snuck off for a free nip, and smiled at the prospect of their plan working so quickly. The next song ended, and Uncle Arnie didn’t return.

We won’t see anything if it hits him in the bathroom. He’ll just be stuck in there all night. Kevin glanced at Danny, and nodded towards the door. Danny shook his head no, and Kevin sat tight. Another song came and went, with still no sign. Kevin’s legs jumped with impatience, and he tucked his hands under his knees to restrain them.

Kevin ignored Danny’s threatening looks, and ventured towards the bathroom. He couldn’t wait any longer. Just as he breached the connecting hallway, he heard a shout for help.

“Somebody call an ambulance!” A man barreled out of the bathroom, his face a frightening white. Scooting along the wall, Kevin approached the doorway. No tell tale odors coloured the air. Why would someone look that scared of bad gas? Tingles covered the nape of his neck. Why don’t I hear anything? The room was eerily silent.

A rush of people poured into the bathroom, sweeping Kevin with them. He cowered in a corner, out of the way, and looked around for Uncle Arnie. Everybody spoke at once.

“Jesus, what happened to him?”

“What’s wrong with his face?”

“Is he breathing?” At the last comment, Kevin whimpered. Climbing to his feet, he inched towards the huddle. Uncle Arnie lay on the cracked tile floor. He was a furious shade of red, with big white blotches covering every visible skin surface. His features were distorted by grotesque swelling, bursting his shirt buttons. He wasn’t moving. Kevin started to cry.

“Check his pulse.” Two men kneeled on either side of the unconscious man. One searched the limp wrist for signs of a heartbeat, struggling with the inflated flesh, while the other began artificial respiration. After a few attempts, he shook his head.

“His throat’s too swollen, nothing’s getting in.” Sweeping the open mouth with his finger, the man found nothing. “I don’t think he’s choking.”

Kevin screamed as a hand clamped his shoulder. Mrs. Arneson cradled her son and tried to soothe the boy.

“What’s going on?” She strained to see. “Oh my God, that’s Arnie.” Realization sparked in her eyes, “He’s having a reaction. He needs his Epipen!” The graveness of the situation jolted Mrs. Arneson, and she let go of Kevin and ran.

“He hasn’t had any air for a few minutes now.” The encircled men glanced to each other for answers. The pulse taker took charge. “I need the sharpest knife we’ve got, and a straw.” No one moved. “NOW!” Three guys raced out, and returned in what seemed like seconds.

Armed with his requested tools, he inhaled deeply. “We can’t wait any longer, or he’ll die.”

Kevin couldn’t tear his eyes away, though he desperately wanted to. Quivering, tears dripping off his chin, he watched the strangers tilt back Uncle Arnie’s head, and slice his throat. Fear deadened his thoughts except for a mindless chant. He’s dying, he’s dying, you’re killing him, you’re killing him, I killed him, I killed him, I killed him…

Somehow staying on his feet, Kevin saw the straw go into the incision. The cutter maneuvered the plastic lifeline around, and then breathed into it. A cheer roared through the congregation when Uncle Arnie’s chest rose. Mrs. Arneson and Auntie June came skidding into the bathroom as the paramedics arrived. Seeing the shock on her son’s face, Kevin’s mom steered him away from the confusion.

“It’s okay, it’s okay.” She whispered to the sobbing boy.

“No it’s not. It’s all my fault.” Kevin stammered out the whole story while his mother held him. Mrs. Arneson yelled to her husband, and left Kevin with him. Promising a later explanation, she went searching for Danny.

“What’s all the fuss?” The teen innocently asked, not meeting her eyes.

“I think you know exactly what the fuss is.” Mrs. Arneson lowered her face to his, her voice strained with barely contained fury. Danny met her gaze with a raised eyebrow, and realized Kevin had ratted him out.

“The old prick deserves a few hives.” Flinching at the hand suddenly clenching the front of his shirt, Danny struggled to pull away.

“You almost killed him, you ignorant moron.” Spittle flew from her mouth, but she didn’t notice. “Forcing an innocent child to do something that will haunt him with nightmares, attempting to murder your father, you don’t deserve to be part of this family.” A cold calm washed over her face. “I’m going to see to it that you no longer are.”

“What?” Danny whispered.

“After this performance, I won’t have any trouble convincing June you belong in a home for troubled teens.” Her words had the boy twitching. “A friend of mine works at the Orange Home in Indian Head. I bet she can get you in right away. Of course, they do require at least a two year commitment.”

“You can’t do that!”

“Watch me.” She released Danny’s shirt, almost pushing him over. “Then you’ll be old enough, you can fend for yourself. I’ll make sure old Arnie doesn’t forget the part you played today. You just kissed your home goodbye.” She left him stunned.

The ambulance siren faded in the distance. People milled around in shock. Some went home, some comforted the family, some tried to escape their guilt and their grief. A little boy stared into space, numb. No one worried about the gigantic untouched cake, alone on its table in the corner, Happy Birthday scripted on top.

firehorse
06-26-2005, 06:30 AM
There were many ways Elliot had envisioned spending his 40th birthday. Sitting with his fellow Les Miserables cast members at a TGIFriday’s on the ground floor of a Ramada Inn outside Milwaukee wasn’t one of them.

He’d pictured himself at Sardi’s perhaps, celebrating after a standing ovation for his Tony-winning performance in a new Mamet play. Instead, he was a gypsy, an ensemble member, one of Javert’s understudies – not even a principal.

“Schlemeel, schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated!” Cosette’s understudy and the new Fantine held each other up under a frayed, generic “Happy Birthday” banner, laughing as they tried to act out the Laverne & Shirley opening.

Elliot signaled to the server. "Another Heineken," he said. Damned if he'd stoop to drinking domestic. He propped his chin in his hand and fiddled with the empty bottle in front of him.

“Mind if I join you?” A tall woman with salt-and-cayenne hair had her hands full – literally – with a plate of frozen vanilla cake, a cup of coffee, a child’s knapsack, two sweaters, two Land’s End jackets and a shoulder bag.

“Please.” Elliot stood to help her. “Let me help you.”

Once seated, she extended her hand. “I’m Miranda, Ian’s mom.” Ian was the newly-cast Gavroche, the adorable, audience-pleasing street urchin.

“Elliot.”

“So I gathered.” She gestured with her fork towards the frozen sheet cake on a table near the banner. “Happy birthday.”

“Thanks. Your son’s very talented.” They went through many Gavroches, thanks to puberty and changing voices. Few remained on the road for longer than six months. This kid was good, though. Perfect pitch.

“He’s ecstatic.” She looked over at her son who, at that moment, was ogling the teenage Cosette.

“Probably easier to be on tour when you’re 12,” Elliot said. “It must seem like a big adventure to him.”

“Absolutely. The tutor takes all the kids to the historical places in each city. When you go to San Antonio, he’ll get to see the Alamo, not just read about it.” She took a bite of cake. “And maybe he’ll get a more accurate historical perspective.”

“I haven’t done that in, like, a year,” Elliot said. “I used to go to all the touristy places, but I got tired of the… tourists.” He began scraping away at the Heineken label.

“How long have you been on tour?” Miranda asked.

“Just over two years.”

“How do you like it?”

He shrugged. “It’s okay.” Elliot stared across the room at a group of younger cast members, in their 20s, playing charades over a checkered tablecloth littered with Miller and Pabst bottles.

The server approached, a buxom blonde of about 32, Elliot guessed. “Last call,” she said. “Want anything?”

“Just that Heineken,” Elliot said. “Miranda?”

“I’m fine, thanks.” After the server left, she asked, “Why so blue?”

Elliot sighed. “I don’t have a retirement fund. I don’t own a house, a car – not even a plant. I have bruises on my legs from bumping into unfamiliar furniture in the middle of the night.”

“Sounds like freedom,” Miranda said. "Except for the bruises."

“This just isn’t what I imagined.” He sighed.

Miranda smiled. “Yeah, don’t we all say that?”

“I’m sorry,” Elliot said as he shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Miranda laughed. “You’re having a mid-life crisis, that’s all. Only it’s a bit skewed.” She finished her coffee. “You do realize you’re living the life most people dream about?”

“That’s only because they’ve never been on the road.”

“Come on. It can’t be that bad.”

“It’s not. I know I’m lucky. It’s just today – I mean, 40. It’s definitely too late to go to med school.” He laughed, but it came out too strongly and sputtered. The server returned with the beer and the bill.

“Would you really want to go to med school?”

Elliot pulled out his wallet and placed two $20 bills on the tray. “No. I hate blood. I hated science. But even more, I hate that it’s no longer an option.”

“Yeah,” she said softly.

A loud, flirtatious squeal emanated from the far side of the room, followed by peals of laughter. The new Fantine was flirting madly with some man Elliot had never seen. He noted with surprise that her coquettishness irritated him; she just seemed so… juvenile.

“You get to play every day,” Miranda said. “You don’t have to wear a suit.”

Elliot broke out in a grin. “I dare any Wall Street guy to go under stage lights in those wigs and costumes.”

Miranda laughed again – a woman’s laugh, not a girlish giggle.

“You get to see a lot of places,” Miranda said.

“It’s a tradeoff,” Elliot replied. “Reward for having a life that can be packed into two large Rubbermaid bins every week.”

“You get two?”

“Yeah, well, you know, I’m a grownup. Supposedly.” He paused. “Wow, that line doesn’t work after 40, does it? I mean, there’s no getting around it. I really am a grownup.”

Miranda tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “That was one of my first thoughts when I turned 40. I realized that I’m definitely not a teenager any more.” They both laughed.

“You don’t look 40.” Elliot lied out of habit.

“Oh, please. I’m 45. There comes a time when you just say ‘this is who I am.’” She shrugged. Elliot tried to pinpoint what was so appealing about her. A lack of pretense, he decided. She looked comfortable in her body, comfortable with herself. He envied that.

“So where’s home?” Miranda asked.

“Wherever the bins are. I sublet my place in New York, but I think the guy who’s living there has squatters’ rights by now.”

Fantine and the object of her flirtation passed by on their way, undoubtedly, to a wild night.

“See that guy?” Elliot pointed to Fantine’s conquest. Miranda nodded. “I feel like I’m still his age.”

“I’ll always feel 25,” she said.

“I’m beginning to understand this whole ‘youth is wasted on the young’ thing.”

“I know!” Miranda’s face lit up. “If only I knew then what I know now…”

“I’m not an emerging actor any more. I’m not a young actor,” he said. “‘Young’ will never again be used to describe me, except maybe by my mother.”

Miranda paused with her fork in mid-air. “Here’s the thing.” She finished off her cake. “You’re starting Act II.”

“Of my life?”

“Exactly.”

“Can’t I be, I don't know... in intermission?”

“Okay,” Miranda said with mock seriousness. “That could work.” Then a full grin: “The point is, Elliot, you can’t have Act II without all the setup that comes from Act I.”

The lights in the unused areas of the restaurants flickered, off-on-off, and then went dark.

“It’s getting late. I should get Ian to bed.” Miranda stood up. “It’s been a pleasure talking with you.”

“Likewise.” Elliot stood up and helped her gather the sweaters and jackets. “Thank you. I feel so stupid, just venting – I don’t even know you.”

“No worries.”

“Well, thanks anyway.” He watched her walk across the room. “See you tomorrow?”

“Absolutely.” She smiled. “And Elliot – don’t stay too long in intermission. All the good stuff happens in Act II.”

William Haskins
06-26-2005, 06:58 AM
The Slow Crush of Time

She awoke this morning,
Ninety years-old, to
Sunlight flooding
Her sterile room in
This pay-by-day prison,
This halfway house
Between existence and
The slow crush of time.

Remnants of dreams were
Scattered beneath the
Squeaking wheels of the
Breakfast cart, as the
Orderly entered,
Bearing a meal of
Juice, toast and eggs—and
A thin slice of cake.

The nurse soon followed;
Together they sang,
“Happy Birthday to You”
In a dull monotone,
While her vitals were checked,
Medication dispensed,
In a meaningless ritual,
A reticent dance.

And as she listened,
Not listening at all,
She cast her mind
Across deep seas
Of her past, ensnaring
Memories, faded and
Curled at the corners
Like photographs lost:

Of childhood summers—
Bare feet following
Dusty trails,
Flower-lined and
Leading to the
Immutable freedom of
Endless days and
Infinite nights;

Of love’s permanence—
Forged through years,
The bond of the soul and
The pleasure of flesh
Leading to the
Immutable force of
Moments shared and
The loneliest grief.

Of family’s embrace—
The music of laughter
In children’s eyes;
The path of the blood
Leading to the
Immutable pain of
Progeny lost to
The shadows of time and
The motion of life.

As they finished the song
Behind insincere smiles
And turned to resume
Their daily routine,
With the frailest of hands,
She raised a toast to
Two perfect strangers and
A roomful of ghosts.

-William Haskins