On your birthday, I see your amaranthine beauty in the golden sunset as we stand at the mouth of the cave, watching night approach. It is because of your teaching that I am strong. And Bolin, who is much recovered, tells me how you were mother to him during the campaign to purge our country of superstitious beliefs, that it was you who told him of the vision of a remnant who would bring fresh hope. We camp in the gracious shelter your spirit has provided.
#Promptodon prompt-based writing on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
Loquacious spirits woke us in the night we slept in the Feng shui Forest, burned when the New Day Dawning government suspected its link to the Olds and their feudal superstition. (We had counted on the forest to offer cover.) The rider who made his way under the moon, through the mists, appeared as a manifestation of our melancholia. He wore the weight of so much tree death. Though a bird appeared on a charred branch to cheer him, it did not reveal our campsite.
#Promptodon prompt-based writing on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
It must have been the food poisoning and antinauseant, as well as the conditions of sleeping on cold stone, that produced a fever dream: A dragon arising from the snowy mountaintops while I sat on a ledge as if I were a sacrifice to some angry god or an offering of atonement. I felt the dragon’s white-hot breath on my exposed torso and I heard my granny say “A crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.” I jumped off the ledge and found I could fly.
#promptodon prompt-based fiction on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
One of our travelers, Bolin Chao, seemingly so stoic and strong, has begun to imagine the limerence of beautiful invisible creatures for his person. He labels them giant sirens who will pull him into madness. He sings to them as if to soothe himself and please them all at once. In the morning, his eyes are wild and he seems bereft of the healing touch of sleep. Morning Flower has administered the opium pipe to no avail and so we will pray this morning and anoint him with oil.
#promptodon prompt-based fiction on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
Note about sirens: “The Sirens were hybrid creatures with the body of a bird and the head of a woman, sometimes also with human arms. One tradition states their origin as companions of Persephone and, failing to prevent her rape, they were transformed into Sirens as punishment.” (“Siren” by Mark Cartwright, World History Encyclopedia)
It was said an Old survived the New Dawning regime and lived in a tower overlooking the gorge. In writings, it was said he had lived one thousand years. And yet, when we arrived at the famous site of his home, there was no clinomanic gentleman whose snores were judgments against the devourers of history, belief, and culture. There was only an ivy-covered tower that whistled with the wind rushing through, a tower that cried to the clouds, that sang an ancient history.
#Promptodon prompt-based fiction on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
*The word prompt for this picture prompt was “clinomania” meaning “an excessive desire to remain in bed; morbid sleepiness.” I couldn’t find its adjectival form online, but I took liberties and treated it like the words “mania” and “hypomania.”
Shaman Morning Flower spoke of her vision and what it meant and we pressed close to hear her famigerate as if spies were as close as we were to each other: We would encounter three spires in the cold light of the glowing moon, a moon as bright as the sun. The spires stood for three challenges to our mission to locate our remaining relatives. We would be fortunate to escape with our lives. Moon Flower’s shamanism itself would have meant our death under the New Day Dawning regime.
#promptodon prompt-based fiction on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
*The word prompt for this picture prompt was “famigerate,” an old word that meant sharing news from abroad, or talking about foreign news. I took liberties here, but the shaman’s visions would be that foreign territory that she herself interprets for her listeners.
I remember being frightened by a pareidolic vision of a woman in the fire at a book burning and incineration of our confessions. I told Mother “That is the sin eater” and she shushed me and gathered me up with you and rushed us home in fear of the New Dawning spies who would arrest us for suspicious beliefs. That night, the woman enveloped me in her fire. She said: “Little Sister, I do not wish for your papers, only a pure heart, the purity of love and imagination.”
#Promptodon prompt-based fiction on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
The day before departure from Perm, my spiritual mother advised me to beware of inevitable limerence among passengers. It would be the time spent together as well as the danger that would create obsessions and often unlikely romances. She warned me of unwanted attachments my charges may develop for me as their leader, but also of the attraction I may feel should subconscious needs become triggered. “These feelings are often delusions,” she warned. “Steer clear.”
#Promptodon, prompt-based flash-fiction writing on Mastodon, the writing exchange instance
On our first day with our hospitable hosts, we witnessed a miracle of giant evergreens surrounding their home. In the golden hour, we awoke after a nap to the ennobling sight of trees of days past. We spoke of our childhoods at Christmas, of traditions. Mr. Chen told the story of the tree who loved a child. We cried that so many trees have been destroyed by the government of New Day Dawning. Someone began to sing. The trees glowed and we basked in their glory.
On Christmas Day, we believed the vision experienced the night before was given to us by an influencing presence: The appearance of an enormous stone angel and a knight, protecting and guiding us to warm lodging. Many of us have kept our faith despite persecution. We believed the dream or vision was a kind of gift for we felt relaxed despite having slept on cold stone and well-fed despite having supped on our meager supplies. We awoke this morning, refreshed and full of hope.
In the cliff beside the Fall of Heaven, it is said an ancient warrior rests with a chatoyant gemstone on his breast. After the damn floods the relics and temples, he will return as the White Tiger. This morning from our boat, we witnessed a few of the remaining cliff coffins, as well as a new city. Yet a roiling bank of fog swirling down the valley, a portent of the warrior, sprung to life. I know it is your spirit, dear brother, giving me strength to press on.
Our viatic mission is having various effects upon the group, being that we are camped in the valley where so many buildings and ancestral relics were destroyed by the damming of the river. Last night, under a full moon, Mrs. Singh had a dream of her daughter standing in a glowing portal, beckoning her. And yet, she felt some uneasiness about it, as if the portal were a beginning and an end, all at once, for the portal swiftly closed, taking her daughter with it.
It pains me to see on the horizon a dark figure walking towards the golden bridges of our beloved Guanyin River Gorge. I fear it is a guard searching for the “Olds,” enemies to the cause of The New Day Dawning, against which our government has cast aspersions. I must spirit away my charges who have come to find evidence of their ancestors, who have come to gather a sense of what must transpire to pave the way for overthrow. We are not safe here.
It has become a habit to write and though I am afraid you are no more, your spirit lingers in the valley. The government lost control of the dam during the flooding and our old haunts were revealed though the lowlier huts such as ours are gone forever. Inimical to my journey has been my precarious status though I have learned that with wealth, even a suspicious woman can carry a basket of dissidents to touch down on the stone hand of the bodhisattva.
I am revisiting a story concept I started working on a few years ago that I abandoned for other projects. My recent involvement in Mastodon has seen me coming across science fiction and fantasy writers who have an interest in creating and sharing bits and pieces of work inspired by visual and word prompts. This activity has helped me envision a new approach to old material. Though I won’t be posting my rewrites fully, these have been amazing exercises I hope to share with you. This picture prompt along with the word “inimical” inspired me to begin. These pieces will be approximately 100 words, most of them more precisely 110-120which is about the length of a post on Mastodon.
Hello, friends and visitors. Life has thrown me a curveball and I’ve been a bit off my game in many ways. I’m learning to function on a lower dosage of my mood stabilizer and for now, that has affected my thinking and functioning. In some ways, I feel the same, but in other ways, I feel quite different. I may be touching base just to share observations or maybe even a little story I manage to eke out. I am ok with varying modes and varying levels of productivity. Besides, I sometimes think, you never know what new thing may come out of it, or new insights, or new connections. I hope this Sunday finds you well. If you are an American celebrating Thanksgiving stateside or abroad, I wish you memorable times. If you are alone, may your times be no less cherished. Here is a piece published recently in Corvus Review, a piece I have also shared here some time ago. Peace—Margaret
P.S. I have migrated from Twitter to Mastodon should you wish to follow me there. I hope to post something Christmasy soon.
They had agreed to meet at the kitschy restaurant next to the vinyl records store. He thought she might like the restaurant’s eclectic confusion of chandeliers and stained-glass panels that hung from the ceiling. He preferred sparsely decorated spaces and vaulted ceilings, but he knew she would like it. Although they were new to each other, they had chatted onscreen for months and he felt that in many ways, he already knew her.
He felt his stomach knot as he sat upon a hard church pew in the waiting area. For the first time, he worried about whether his antlers would become entangled in the low-hanging chandeliers or smash into a stained glass window and bring it crashing to the floor. People were generally accepting of him, but he nonetheless found it inconvenient to carry this weight on his head, though of course, his rack gained him respect. Who could argue with a 15-point man-buck? He had told her about this singular feature of his, but he didn’t have the space in his apartment to give her a full-screen picture. He didn’t care anymore. He didn’t have the luxury of self-consciousness. He was lonely and yearned for companionship.
She was all freshness, sweetness, and light, just as he had expected, based on the way she was on the screen. She gave him a hug and said how much she loved his antlers, immediately putting him at ease. And yet, once seated at the table, he inadvertently unhooked a chandelier with a point. He shrugged and wore it while they drank their wine. This tickled her. The staff scurried about, debating how to extricate the gold branches of the light fixture from his crown.
But the bigger problem came with the meal. She had made him so comfortable that he forgot himself when he ate his salad. Although he had long practiced eating in the manner of a civilized person, isolation during the pandemic had unmoored his self-discipline. At first, he wasn’t even aware that his relaxed state had freed his mouth to engage in its old, circular motion, much in the exaggerated fashion of a deer.
He saw her staring at him, watching his mouth. She was no longer laughing and delighted. She had nothing to say to him to help him save face. She made an excuse to make a phone call outside and she didn’t return.
Out by the railroad tracks which led to the woods where his brother had died, where his mother had given birth to him, and his father had taught him to forage and fight, he wondered if it had been an overreach for him to be in this other world. He gave in to this likelihood and let his hands become hooves. He bolted through the empty Florida city and out through pastures and orange groves, and up into lands farther north, familiar breezes, forests of berries and trees and acorns.
On All Hallows, former 60s flower child, Summer, cokes up outside the Orlando nightclub. Her aged party friends have died or retired, but she dances to psychedelic trance music and can’t stop. She moves with the young bodies around her, siphoning their energy. She will never die. She is free.
Been years since still-birthin’ Wandalene an’ I been feelin’ phantom cold-mouth nursin’ on my breast. The house has taken to falling in tatters—the aged lace of wallpapers and curtains. When Samhain come an’ spirits cross, we play in moonlight: Wanda laughin’ at my funny faces, cooin’ with my lullabies.
The simulated clouds of Golden Hour Village glow orange and purple as Mrs. Lupei shakily places tiny pumpkins on her “porch,” a façade to her room. Tonight, she will nuzzle Rafael, one of the young nurses who help entertain on holidays. She may puncture his flesh if her dentures cooperate.
On All Saints Day, we took our cornhusk dolls to the sin-eater. We laid them inside the drum circle where fire dancers spun. At night, the sin eater took our sins away by fire, except for lecherous Mr. Murphy who died, not a singe mark on a husk.
While hurricane winds stirred, Nivena spied a woman in her mother’s spare bedroom—a younger version of her mother. She was rearranging her mother’s books while her own mother made dinner. Alarmed, Nivena vowed that when the hurricane passed, she would return home and keep what she saw a secret.
A woman had a baby inside that cried of its own accord. The woman kept the baby a secret except one time at the grocery, the woman thought of how no one wanted her and the baby cried so that she had to abandon her cart and flee.
Everyone at the high school knew that to open-mouth kiss Reyah at the Halloween party would be committing social media suicide. But newcomer Angel, innocent of the knowledge, kissed her by the pool. What no one knew was that Reyhah had leukemia. After that night, no trace of it remained.
On Halloween, Mirabella sat on her porch, luxuriating in the sound of the fountain beside her new Florida garden apartment. Then she noticed Trick or Treaters walking through the cascade despite the pond’s depth. Something was off. Later, they woke her, their creaking bones and cries, their feral selves—hungry.
Down the center of the peninsular state, the tropical climate briefly withholds its sauna so a few exhausted leaves of august trees may die in their golden glory. Yet the fanfare is ignored amid the ravenous, eternal green, impatient heat, marauding winds—the energy of youth and growth and destruction.
It would be years later that he remembered the shift. He had found a murdered woman’s body sprawled on the autumn wildflowers beside a Central Florida river. Having called the police, he admitted to his father at the campsite: “People are not what I thought.”
He began noticing how many kinds of birds there were when he could no longer throw the death switch. This circumstance came about when a murderess, softened by his ministrations on her last day, thanked him profusely. And that’s when he knew: She had seen his true self.
At night, we said the things to each other we wanted to hear our mothers say. We said them in motherly tones. In our beds, while we fell asleep, we felt cool fingers in our hair not belonging to anyone. We slept to an owl hooting beyond the moon-spilled curtains.
On Halloween, Granny makes celery casserole while we play in the woods, the old Oviedo celery fields. We play with the ghost children as the cheese melts and the milk softens the stalks. Under the moon, Papa fiddles while Granny dances on a door to make the ghost children happy.
As his eyes closed on what would be his grave, the lake now up to the windowsill, the humming of rescue boats dying out for the night, he thought of what he would have shown his young son: Fish jumping in their yard, an alligator swimming through the swing set.
(This story began as an Inktober 50-word installment beginning with “Mute” and continuing on with “Mute II” and “Mute III.” Feeling some limitations with writing metanarrative with 50-word constraints, I decided to combine these three, making some necessary revisions, and pushing it forward a bit with this post. I will entitle this “Brother John.” Hopefully, I will add to this. Thank you for reading.)
The writing instructor said Greta Engevold’s story about a benign homeless man who lives in the Central Florida woods behind a suburban family’s home was naïve. He had meant she was a simpleton. That night, she dreamt she haunted the instructor, contorting her face and howling in anger, but his face registered nothing.
The houseless man confronted the instructor in his driveway. “Hey man, I’m in Greta Engevold’s story.”
The instructor sidled away but the man grabbed his arm. “If you keep undercutting her confidence, you interfere with my existence. Ergo: You’re dead, buddy.”
Pale and shaking, the instructor nodded.
“I think he gets it, kids!” The man did a little two-step, performing for an invisible audience of fans.
“And you were so busy humiliating Greta, you didn’t even ask if I made it through the hurricane.”
“You’re right, man, I’m sorry.”
“And now you want to erase me from my own story. That is the limit.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Look, I get it. I’ll bet Greta wouldn’t even imagine that I might threaten someone and make good on it. She’s a sheltered young lady. But let her alone. She’ll know soon enough how things are.”
This was all too much time to spend on one student’s limitations, thought the instructor. This was usually why he kept his feedback short and curt, hoping that in the end, it will all make sense to them.
“They made a documentary about me,” said Brother John. “That’s where she got the idea of me. But then she thought of the idea of these little half-feral kids whose parents work and who come to visit.”
“Film is a different medium,” said the instructor, unable to help himself.
“You really are something, aren’t you,” Brother John grinned. “I’ll bet you really don’t believe a lot of us are tucked away in the woods in neighborhoods everywhere. around here. We’ve rigged up tents. I have tv, an easy chair. A cookstove.”
(Well, I’ve got some things to do today but I really did feel guilty about possibly leaving Brother John hanging for much longer. The little 50-word limits I have set for Inktober were hurting my progress, but maybe I will go back to them to make another future installment, or maybe I will increase my limit for this project. Have a wonderful day.—Margaret)
Weeks after Hurricane Ian, the Lauriers held a memorial service for their beloved aunt and sister who had called as her home was flooding. Panicked and confused, she had asked for her deceased brother’s help. Later, her cat had been found, but she had disappeared. They laid flowers on the sea.
The writing instructor said Greta Engevold’s story about a benign homeless man who lives in the woods behind a family’s home was naïve. He had meant she was a simpleton. That night, she dreamt she haunted the instructor, contorting her face and howling in anger, but his face registered nothing.
The coastguard found unmedicated bipolar Jodok Pfeiffer sleeping under a tarp on the beach with a pack of dogs, all lost and wandering after Hurricane Ian. Jodok had gathered food for them, and all seemed fairly well, though Jodok said he was their dog father: He knew their ancient fears.
When a child died of a fentanyl overdose, they determined it was not from rainbow-colored pills disguised as trick-or-treat candy, but from his discovery on a Florida west coast beach, farther north from the hurricane destruction, where his mother let him explore. They said that night the quiet sea wept.
On Halloween, the widow Mrs. Bythesea noticed something different about one of the trick-or-treaters: He never grew from year to year and no one seemed to acknowledge him. In her grief, she fell under the delusion it was her own dear Fergus, returned to her as a living child.
He awoke to water pouring through their one-bedroom home. His wife, Jacqueline, was still asleep. Thinking of her life insurance payout with the oncoming hurricane, he made it through a window and to his car. At the church shelter that night, he died of a heart attack.
A retired pastor shelters with his adult daughter, a “lost soul,” from the oncoming hurricane. As winds rage, he tells her she has brought this about by her liberal beliefs. Before they both die, he sees her laughing: She is not a demon anymore but his own little Beatriz.
In the annexed territory, citizens lay in mass graves. Conscripted soldiers said that on All Hallows’, the risen souls of these dead walked the bombed-out streets, leveling their army, flipping tanks, and snuffing out soldiers as if they were so many candles on a cake.
A rusty nail lay upon Drana Fersby’s cream-colored velveteen sofa. She had escaped the flooding from the hurricane and the debris that came with it, thinking God had surely shown favor. That night, she dreamt she had to stab her attacker in the eye with it. She awoke, aghast.
Alone, Dahlia Candella confronted the roaring of Hurricane Ian, remembering a former church friend who had told her cancer had been punishment for her divorce. She wanted to walk out into it and shake her fist, but she held Alberto, her little Westie, until he stopped trembling.
It wasn’t the most unbelievable thing that her mattress became a raft, floating her out to sea during the hurricane. What was unbelievable was the sound of the wind, calling her name in the hoarse final breath of her father.
Notes: October— a time to celebrate and practice writing bite-size! Every day in observing Inktober, I write a 50-word fiction with a scary/spooky spin. I believe Inktober may have started as a drawing challenge and I have found great visual prompts from artists on sites such as DeviantArt. Sometimes I don’t use word prompts. Today’s fiction nugget is something that occurred to me, then I found this great image on flickr.
Have a great Sunday.—Margaret
PS I like writing in a small spiral notebook like this so I can visualize the size of the story as I write. This is a Mead Cambridge 6×4, 70 sheet. I prefer notebooks that are not too precious. This is a quality workhorse in that it aids being held in the hand w/its sturdy cardboard back. I can also easily tuck it into a purse. Tools are important. Not absolutely critical of course but anything I can do to help myself, I’ll do it. ❤
It has been well known for quite some time that on the outskirts of Munir, a city that could well be considered a test city for its heretofore untapped source of fuel, the bodies of useless women are currently housed. We use the term “bodies” to denote that for all intents and purposes, such women as these are barely alive by today’s standard of living and for all intents and purposes will soon be dead, either through despair or other natural causes induced by such. And we say “useless women” to mean that such unfortunates have no use in our mainstream consumer society and must therefore be removed in order to fulfill their highest potentialities: The usage of their bodies as an alternative fuel source, their heroic sacrificial contribution to our community.
We have found marginalized groups have the highest wattage output per kilogram and though findings remain uncertain, we surmise this must have something to do with the epic operation of the soul that is crushed and aggrieved. Having observed the transfer of energies of suffering beings into ghost forms upon death, we are determined to tap into this energy surplus and use it to the good use of the operation of our fair city.
Our future alternative fuel source are the bodies of women who die naturally in our community center designed to house them, women who have lived well past their prime, those women who, in life, have been neglected by husbands who, by sheer neglect or harsher means, express their displeasure. Also, an excellent source of fuel are women considered burdens by their offspring where once they were considered vital sources of nurture. These women have cadavers that will burn most efficiently, and we will see to their disposal as we honor them, giving them flags and medals pre-incineration and hosting ceremonies, providing mass punch and cake gatherings with balloons.
Unless such women have managed to overcome the barriers against them and build a world for themselves based on talents apart from chasing male providers’ affections and gaining the ongoing affections of their children, midlife women often find themselves at a place we provide: a death house we call Sunny Meadows, a name signifying heaven. Though we attempt to meet the essential needs of our residents at Sunny Meadows, we practice restraint in complying with the spiritual fulfillment mandates for housing a human being, realizing the energy potentials would be compromised should happiness be fulfilled to any real degree.
We are not beyond taking women or any beings for that matter who, lost to despair, are searching for a place to exist, beings who have lost functionality in our free market including but not limited to politicians and activists labeled “nasty,” beauty queens labeled “pigs,” actresses labeled “overrated,” pre-menopausal women who bleed, violated women labeled “liars.” We anticipate the bodies of all such marginalized women and others whose psyches are crushed by the current oligarchy will make excellent sources of fuel in our alternative energy program and we anticipate in fact an uptick in fuel reserves to get us through times of famine, that is, more benevolent future regimes, should that eventuality become realized.
When evil flourishes, either privately on the personal level in homes — between family members, a husband and wife, children and parents — or when it flourishes in our public sociopolitical machine, we are operating in the black and so we say, unofficially, of course, may evil reign, yet it always does. It is simply a matter of degree and so this method of securing this previously untapped fuel source is flawless.
First appeared in s/tick as part of “The Repeat Defenders” issue. Also appeared in Shambolic Review.
Unfortunately, there is nothing to be done about the coupling of tombstones. First of all, their copulations are deafening — how they grunt and sigh! — and secondly, the sparks spewing from the friction — blue, green, yellow, and purple sparks — ignite fires in the dry season. (And when the fires erupt, corpses awaken and are enraged. They must be put down by truckloads of cool, damp earth.) But the biggest problem with stone sex is this: A cemetery of newly formed stones. And no one has managed to escape the certain pairing between death and a stone.
One time, a stone cutter, ambitious that his town should live, fashioned the tombstones into paving stones, stones for the fireplace, the threshold, the garden, thinking he could circumvent their original purpose. When he disappeared they only found a pile of stones beside the cemetery where he had been working.
What was convenient about the situation, however, was that the stone pile was a nice place for the townspeople to eat their sandwiches, so they stopped asking questions and began hanging out. Also, what was good about it was that the smooth stones made nice little ledges for their beer. So when a man did not return home at night, other women would relay this information to his frustrated wife: “Oh, he’s still on the stone pile.”
One night a man materialized across the cemetery where they were sitting and drinking.
“Are you a ghost?” said Jacob. He had begun driving them crazy with this idea of diverting the creek so it ran next to the graves. They could sink a barrel of ale into its cool body, he said. It would be woman for them and they could be like the man, filling her vessel, and together, they could make cool beer. He was always wild with his crazy metaphors and his stupid ideas. His horny talk was probably inspired by the horny stones they had subdued for the season by anchoring them to the ground with chains.
“I’m not a ghost,” said the man.
“Are you a newcomer?”
“ This implies I’m staying.”
“Are you God?”
“Would God do this?” and he reached into one of their sacks, grabbed a beer, popped off the cap, and guzzled it down.
“I don’t know,” Phillip said. He was the town tombstone engraver and he was a philosopher of sorts. Engraving the dash between the dates of birth and death made him shaky. What did the dash represent? It was all so ordinary. Were they all so alike? It made him depressed. “Jesus ate even after he rose from the grave.”
“Stop being morbid,” Jacob said. His wife Tatiana said the same thing. In fact, he sometimes wondered if they slept together. They said many of the same things, in exactly the same way. It made him angry, then it made him depressed and he couldn’t do anything about it. He couldn’t even prove anything definitively.
“Well I can assure you I’m not God. Excuse me, this is underfoot,” and he picked up a long-handled scythe they had not noticed before. Apparently it had been on the ground. He leaned it against a tree. “I hate it when stuff like this could bean you in the head any moment if you step on it wrong.”
A scythe, what a cliché, thought Phillip who expected more from the grim reaper. Did even religious clichés have to come true? Were there no surprises?
“I’ve had sex with your wives. They’re all very good. You are lucky men.”
Was this guy nuts? Phillip thought. They would kill him, all together, with their hands around his throat. There were about twenty five of them. But he wasn’t a cliché in this: He was pretty buff for the grim reaper.
“While you guys have been yucking it up on the pile, which by the way, is the grave of a dead man, I’ve been enjoying life. Your women are very lonely and very receptive. I’ve learned how to knit, how to dandle your children on my knee. They gave me tea and gossip and practically talked me into their beds. I love this town. I love this place. I think I’ll stay.”
“We’ve got to get rid of him,” said Jacob when the man had wandered off into the misty fields with his scythe. “Our women were fine before he got here. We’re screwed.”
“We must have interfered with the balance of things,” said Phillip. “Maybe that’s why we’re being cursed with this maggot.”
And so they released the stones so they could couple. At night, when they wanted to drink, they cooled them down with water from the creek and it was quiet and peaceful again and the men got drunk and the women went back to their creative, secret occupations which involved, among other things, ruling the world.
First appeared in the following: Danse Macabre and The Strange Edge.
“This must be the least favorite part of your body,” said the manicurist, rubbing a rose-scented cream into the woman’s hand. The manicurist’s eyes traveled up to the woman’s neck and rested on her face. “In fact, your whole right side is damaged.” The manicurist gave her some cream to take home.
The manicurist was not exaggerating. On the back of her wrist was a long purple scar where she had surgery to remove a ganglion cyst. It looked like some kind of backward suicide attempt. There was a puckered white patch on a knuckle where she burned her hand ironing her husband’s shirt on his first day of work. Her pinkie had suffered third-degree burns from the hot glue gun when she was helping her son make Gandalf for a Tolkien diorama. There was a slash on her neck where another cyst had been removed. There was a sprinkling of hypopigmentation on the right side of her face, a result of pregnancy that no amount of makeup could hide.
She used the cream. It worked. She looked nothing like herself. She freaked out. She slashed the back of her wrist and the base of her neck. She burned her knuckle with an iron. She covered her pinkie with hot glue. She dotted her check with household bleach. She took herself to the emergency room and said she had been tortured, and no, she did not know her assailant.
How are you this Friday? I thought I would share this. I love it so. I’ve been revising my stories and submitting them to journals for consideration. I should learn about the status of one next Monday and if I learn something, I’ll share. I look forward to the season turning as much as it ever “turns” here in central Florida! I hope to publish something more personal here on my blog before long. I hope you will enjoy your weekend. Sincerely—Margaret
Go to my link to experience a unique voice. I don’t mean the writer’s actual voice when she reads her original flash fiction story out loud, I mean the narrative voice of the story, the way the storyteller is conveying her reality, her perceptions and beliefs.
I hope you enjoy it. I did. It’s fun to listen to as well as read. I hope you are doing well this Monday. Sincerely—Margaret
I’m listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s excellent reading of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, a first-person semi-autobiographical narrative about a writer sliding into mental illness, severe depression. I’m looking back at an old story of my own and am wanting to fill it out, to add detail and interest. Like Plath’s Bell Jar, my little narrative is told in the first person, and Ms. Gyllenhal’s helping me give a kind of approach with her annunciation and dramatic reading of Plath’s flawless diction. Some recent work I’ve been doing concerns mental illness. It’s a challenging subject, even if you have some firsthand experience. I liberally apply here the Wordsworth quote my Romantic poets professor often used back in the day: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”
Despite our flaws, may America always stand. May plans to besmirch our hopes for a country governed by its citizens be thwarted. Be well on this day. Be at peace. At least for a day, if not a few.—Margaret
I have been watching some series and revisiting film on a certain theme. I stumbled across the HBO series “Generation Kill” yesterday and was so impressed by its gritty nature, its absence of non-diegetic music. I’ll have to say, I love that, especially for something as irreal as war. The series does well in portraying absurdities, surrealities, mindblowing military protocols and formalities in the running, executing, and justifying of the war machine in Iraq. The series is focused on a group of highly trained marines who must experience and encounter everything as it comes while attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity even if that sanity is the kind that has been proferred them by their ranking superiors. Apparently, the series received high praise from marines for its accuracy. It also made me think of “Apocolypse Now” though there is more invention in the Coppola interpretation of Vietnam with its incorporation of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Below is an interesting podcast critiquing Coppala’s project. In it is also a discussion of “distance killing” which is something I began to question when I dated someone midlife who was involved in this kind of warfare in the Middle East. I wrote an autofiction piece about our dating experience which I then subbed to a journal, but then withdrew it when I realized it needed more work. I am puzzling through some of this stuff, something to think about during so many things going on in our world. Cheers, good people, on this Monday. Peace.
Florida Memory, state archives, Vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center, 1973, flickr
How are you? I went out of town to see my parents last weekend for Mother’s Day. This weekend, I’ve given myself some downtime with movie therapy. Actually, I’ve given myself lots of time off for this. I keep telling myself that I’m going to let a couple of services drop for at least a month, but then, something good comes out and I lose my resolve. Some highlights over the past couple of months: Breeders, The Staircase, Ozark, John and the Hole, Gaslit, The Sound of Silence, Candy, Julia, Life & Beth, Jim Gaffigan’s Comedy Monster, Meltdown: Three Mile Island. I include the picture above to point out that I have considered watching the Challenger series on Netflix, but can’t quite bring myself to do it yet. My high school English class went outside to watch the Challenger ascend, and then we observed the tragedy. I just don’t know if I can watch the series. Maybe sometimes personal losses get attached to national losses, and it can be all too painful. Anyway, there are so many good series and movies streaming. I hope you are doing well this May and have some time to relax. Sincerely—Margaret
I was out today in my little yellow Ford Focus doing some errands. I felt just a few pounds lighter; my hair had grown out a little from an unwanted severe cut; the sun shone down through the sunroof, delivering light to my pale face. The weather was warm but breezy, beach-perfect on this spring Florida Saturday. My body has felt the stresses of the last few years, yet I still wear a mask when I go inside businesses to make purchases and post a package. As a cancer survivor, I don’t want infection and long covid effects, though I realize a piece of cloth at this point is a feeble defense in a sea of germs. I don it anyway. However, I take my sunglasses off when inside to at least appear less lady-bank-robber. And today I wore a light blue shirt, a blue and white paisley cotton mask, light summer jeans, sandals. I was feeling good vibes.
One of my errands was the liquor store where a tall, sandy-haired guy greeted me in an aisle and asked me how I was doing. He did this in a way that seemed like he could be either just a friendly customer or a well-trained employee. I noticed that he was handsome, young, fit but in an easy surfer, Florida way, nothing overdone. Well done, liquor store. He was likely 30s tops, maybe good-lifestyle 40. But the friendly part was the thing that mattered.
They were playing “Ring My Bell” from my Arkansas-roller-skating grade school days, though six of us Orlando high school girlfriends used to ride around in one of our mom’s minivans and sing it, on our way to the mall through the heat and humidity, on our way to a night out somewhere, the vigorous palms and live oak overhead dripping with Spanish moss watching over us in loco parentis.
It was lunch hour at the liquor store, the time most populated by my generation. Usually most of this set have minivans or hybrids and do an economy spend of a few cases. I often see them packing up in the lot from their full carts. I’m more of an as-needed shopper since I live just a few miles down the street on the other side of the highway. I pick up a six-pack or a liquor bottle and/or mixer.
It is a nice store, bright and well-kept in a well-manicured area of town financed by Disney, financing soon to be destroyed by a strange man, apparently a not-Disney person who wants to crush everyone’s good times. I thought of that as I drove around today, enjoying the incredible, lush beauty, but tried not to think of it as well, tried not to think too much of stupidity and wretchedness and how ego can literally crush everyone’s life and environment. No, I try not to think of it too much.
At the store, I headed straight to the refrigerated section stocked with variations of my brew, a Belgian wheat. They were out of the light, so I took a six-pack of the mango-flavored. I’ll have to admit, I was happy when a floor walker directed me to a register manned by the employee who had greeted me in an aisle. He was a tall 6’2″ or so, very Florida, so like many of the surfer guys I have known; like my late brother, a surfer and chill person; like my friend from high school, a lover of Jimmi Hendrix a generation too late and eventually a heroin addict on the street; and like too many to list, from high school and even into adulthood.
Surf-liquor man was a very good salesperson and knew how to talk and field my question about my preference for the light. He was ready with a story about it and a quip about supply chains and the lack of creativity of certain manufacturers in meeting demand.
He reminded me of my own son, the same sandy blond hair, easy conversation.
All these moments and more, moments of sharing space and conversation and laughs, had not happened as much for a few years of pandemic isolation, at least not as much for me. For me, it was sometimes the fear that kept me further away than I should have allowed myself. And today, I didn’t really feel that fear so much. And I thought of how much we need these little moments, sometimes even more than “significant” ones. The lack of these tiny human exchanges over a long stretch of time can break us down a bit, and sometimes they can break us down a lot.
On my way home, I had a sudden urge to hit the road, to drive until I hit the beach about an hour away. But my second thought was that I needed to save my gas money for the drive to see my mother on Mother’s Day. My tank is now is 3/4 full which means if I’m conservative, I can fill it a few less times this May. My irrational hope is that somehow the world may soon be absent one less dictator; may soon be absent one less ruiner of lives, economies, and peace. My irrational hope is that soon I will breathe easier when I think of trips, of beach trips, of family trips, of just-because trips, of just-sanity trips and beauty and fun trips. And more to the point, I pray against all hope those most affected by the crushing will finally and somehow be afforded the chance to survive; be afforded the chance to recover; be afforded the chance to put their lives and communities back into some sort of discernible order.
Another favorite song I heard today was one I played in my car on my way home from errands: George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” In a fleeting music-inspired-feel-good-moment, it caused me to think romantically that there must have been so much idealism in the world when it was composed. And yet, and yet…there was war then too, and this song was in heartfelt protest.
Today afforded me a little breath. I can now hear the wind filtering the leaves outside of the living room of my apartment. I think there have been many days these leaves moved with the wind, but my own breath has awakened my senses.
And now, I hear a bird…And now, I wish you a good Saturday.
Elora had been dreading her follow-up to the ultrasound of her neck. Several years ago, her neck had been the site of an invading cancer. Her surgeon had performed a miracle surgery of her thyroid, leaving only a faint line, as if it were a midlife wrinkle.
The Women’s Center was a new experience: near downtown, luxuriously appointed, a good place to receive any news—for good or ill. Even the phlebotomist’s office would have been a desirable place to linger with a coffee and a good book: The ceiling was vaulted, the windows immense, the light pristine.
She had made acquaintances with the receptionist and the nurse, a good practice in her experience. Today she was surprised to see a patient out of sorts. The elder lady was impatient within five-minutes’ waiting, scooting to the front on her walker to demand how much time is “a little while?” Fifteen minutes? Thirty minutes? Most of the waiters assumed their stay would be however long, but Elora recognized something in it—the sense of powerlessness, the loss of control, the invisibility. The woman wore a knitted beanie of white and green shamrocks for St. Patty’s. Elora had complimented the woman for her hat but had been unable to discern the response.
Elora sat, waiting. She worried. She hadn’t been sure she would come in today. She hadn’t slept well for a week, ever since the ultrasound technician hovered long seconds over certain areas of her neck, the pressing yielding a dull ache. She had to have her wits about her to navigate the traffic, but she finally fell asleep for two hours before leaving home. It was enough.
Only a month ago, her new doctor had been a pristine presentation of professionalism yet sympathy, that unique combination that was so reassuring. A petite Hispanic woman, she had been as flawless in her appearance as in her manner—beautifully dressed and coiffed. Although she was far along in her pregnancy, her protruding belly fit her slight, feminine frame.
Things had changed in just a month. For them both. Elora was actually worried. And not for herself. There was a graying at her doctor’s temple, a dishevelment in her overall appearance, a weariness in her eyes. She was closing things down with her patients while she readied herself for her coming hiatus. And she was struggling with her three-year-old. Do you have children? she said, though as much for a sense of camaraderie as a question.
Together, they looked at the film of her neck, at what nodes seemed normal and which ones may be suspicious. The radiologist had not rendered an opinion, so these were only speculations her doctor said. The wisest doctors Elora had ever had brought her along at certain stages, letting her see numbers and tests and reasoning through them with her, as if she had the powers of medical discernment.
Outside, and on the way home, she thought: It was like looking at the craters on the moon, those pictures of the inside of my neck. And, she thought: How can I send my doctor a baby gift? And then she imagined what a challenge it was for her doctor to balance what she did so well professionally with what was so unknown and unchartered for any woman at home with children. And at night, laying on her pillow, there were familiar tears of fright, an old friend now, but just a few tears she indulged: I don’t want to die. Followed quickly by another thought: Until informed otherwise, results are inconclusive. And with this, she fell asleep.
Have you seen the movie Slapface? A teenage boy and his younger brother struggle to survive after the death of their mother. The father is absent, but apparently, he was an abusive alcoholic. The boy hangs out alone in the woods, though sometimes he is joined by a pack of three girls who bully him. He forms a special bond with one but even though they have a special relationship, the girl joins the other two in bullying him when they are all together.
The boy meets a monster when he is hanging out in an abandoned building. It is a tall shadowy figure with draped clothing, a gaunt face, a hooked nose. Although the boy thinks at first that the monster might be attacking him, he realizes that this may not be the case. In fact, they enjoy many quiet, mysterious moments together, just hanging out, quite a contrast from the more raucous moments he has with his brother who abuses him in games of “slapface.”
There are times the monster seems to be a kind of mother figure, or even father figure. The boy starts to love the monster and want to know her/him. Yet the monster is also violent at times, sometimes chaotically so. However, it is notable that the monster does not hurt the boy. And sometimes, it hurts others in an effort to protect the boy or fight for him.
Nothing becomes clear about the monster, only that its unpredictable, contradictory nature means the boy cannot continue their friendship. The boy grows into an understanding of violence and abuse and its limitations in a relationship. He matures and separates. Perhaps the monster is only the conflicted feelings in the boy as well as his dire need of maternal love and presence.
It is a beautiful and mysterious movie. I like it that much is left unexplained.
As a horror and dark fiction writer, I am frequently confronted by the issues discussed here. I thought I would share this excellent article and point you to an interesting blog on this Wednesday. I hope you are doing well! Most sincerely—Margaret
(A late Women-In-Horror Month posting with apologies to regular readers: my computer died and took my originally planned post with it. This is a reconstruct… from the best of my failing memory…)
Here in the climate of #MeToo, female writers of Horror do not have far too look for a sad sisterhood.
How quickly must I apologize to male readers of this blog? How deeply must I sublimate the resentments that still haunt every writing decision I make like so many Leng Hounds?
This is how we know there is a problem: “No offense to male writers of the genre, but…”
Because here we are not talking about a casting couch. (Perhaps those of us who are writers of fiction too often seem unsexy in our sweat pants and pinned up hair, locked for long periods of time like mental patients in our writing rooms, we only “glam up” on…
Good morning! And it’s another day for busking. On Simily yesterday, I posted a short flash fiction piece, something I originally posted on this blog five years ago. I wrote the piece for the occasion of the inauguration of the former president. The sentiments expressed are still felt as deeply and the situation still applies as we head toward another election. Every view I get for a post on Simily equals two cents, so I would be much obliged.
I have also set up shop for providing editing services for a minimal fee or voluntary donation in exchange for my chance to gain experience. If you read my blog, you’ll know I’ve taken a couple of editing courses, one at the University of Washington and one at the University of Chicago, and I hope to complete a certificate in editing with a specialization in fiction. I also have an MFA in Fiction, a BA in English Literature, and an MA in Adult Education. If you or someone you know is interested in any level of editing, please see my website for contact information.
Hi! I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a few days. I’ve been in a bit of a panic, as indicated in my last post, regarding rising rental costs here in central Florida. But now, it seems I’ve resigned to hunkering down where I am for another year, starting to sell a lot of my stuff, and possibly moving when a renewal offer is on the table again.
I am taking the challenge by the horns and setting up ways to bring in a little extra money. On a new writing platform called Simily, I have set up an account where I can post my stories, interact with other writers, and get paid when I receive views. It’s two cents per story view, but I expect the site audience to grow and the corresponding passive income to grow as well. If you would like to help me, or if you’re just curious, check out my profile to get links to my stories. I will be adding more over time.
And check out the site as a whole while you’re there. Consider subscribing. One thing I like is how easy it is to find content I want to read. I can go to “groups” and I can see the genres and categories writers are posting work to. I can join those groups if I want to post and share and participate in conversations. Or I can read without joining. By being a subscriber to the site, I can follow my favorite writers. Subscribing is not expensive. And because the site is still new, it’s not overwhelming to navigate. It’s still in development, an exciting time to hop on board.
That’s one of my busking projects at the moment. I’ll be back to share more. I hope you are doing well this Friday. Yours truly.—Margaret
Ok, no it’s not that cold here in central Florida, and thank God for Great Clips, but as far as the weather down here is concerned, it was 36 degrees in the wee hours of this morning. Many of our warm-weather creatures have it rough right now. This awesome pic is from a Huron County Museum archive on flickr. The date is circa 1917.
In other Florida news, rental prices in Central and South Florida have skyrocketed, up by approximately thirty percent. It has affected me and so many Floridians. I’m a little worried for our state, to say the least, regarding this and other things. I keep thinking about Ola Belle Reed. She was wise and talented. Be well.—Margaret
When my son was 16, I took him to a summer camp in Tennessee. But first, we spent July 4th in Tellico Plains which a vacation website describes as a “vintage mountain town in East Tennessee, at the gateway to the Cherohala Skyway and the Cherokee National Forest.” As I recall, it was indeed vintage and I was glad I had stocked a cooler full of supplies before entering this part of the country. I was also grateful for a sturdy four-wheel drive SUV for, after having dropped my son at camp, I had a terrifying moment of having to weather a flooded road to get to my cabin, tucked deep into the woods. It was an early single mom experience. When I was young, I embraced wildness and adventure and feats of derring-do. Let’s just say life has schooled me in the ways of caution. I love this little gem of a song by Jimmie Rogers. Be well on this Sunday.—Margaret
Tonight, I watched the movie Patrick’s Day. It dramatizes a Nurse-Ratched style relationship between a mother and her mentally ill son. Blessedly, it is the son’s love for another woman, a romantic relationship, that begins to shake his mother’s domineering hand.
It is a wrenching movie at times, though again, a bit dramatic. Electroconvulsive therapy is portrayed as a horrendous instrument and in the movie, is used as a tool of control, whereas in IRL, it helps people at the end of the line who often have no other options. I’ve heard it’s more patient-friendly (At one time, yours truly was presented this depression-busting option as a way through a medication-free pregnancy, but I felt fortunate I did not require it, regardless of reassurances.)
Though the finer points of mental illness and treatment may have been stretched a bit, I thought it a great movie about mental illness, and a great movie in general. Movies have only touched the tip of a very big iceberg when it comes to exploring mental illness as a fictional subject. Sometimes the movies that are made follow a kind of morbid trope. For example, we have seen a Nurse Ratched before, though the Nurse-Ratched-type mother in Patrick’s Day inspired some pathos. (The mother of Patrick’s Day also reminded me of Frances Farmer’s mother in Frances.) It’s a big bravo for the movie that the plot continued to spin out, using character change and development to level up as it were. Ergo, it is a step beyond the grimness of Cuckoo, Frances, Girl Interrupted, etc.
I’m interested in finding out other people’s opinions of the portrayal ofillness and caregivers in this and other movies. I hope for continued dialogue, and of course, more movies.
Have you seen the movie Rare Beasts? It’s fun and quirky. Roger Ebert says “I can’t make heads or tales out of this bleak black comedy about a single mom dating a borderline incel coworker who craves the status of marriage but seems to hate women and wants none of the work involved in actually making a relationship.” Oh, Roger. Take a breath. And like, laugh? The movie is hilarious. Its greatness is its lack of predictability. Here, have a rose. RIP. We miss you—Margaret
Janneth rolled back her screeching patio door to the mild night, to a pleasant weather belying the human realities of plague, of economic and political collapse. On her hip, she held baby Isla who played with her bright yellow necklace. The bauble had been an impulse purchase during her now extinct state of existence. The little red-headed wonder put a beaded strand into her mouth and Janneth’s heart skipped a bit, grateful for this tiny source of joy.
Guntar had awakened them with repairs to his vehicle, a noise that in an earlier time would have annoyed her to the point of submitting a written complaint to the apartment management. And now, she wondered if he knew she was the cause of them shooing him away to the outer edges of the lot for his nighttime maintenance, somewhere remote (Yet now, with management seemingly shuddered, he was apparently taking liberties.)
She wondered if he was someone to be relied upon, someone to graciously receive a request for assistance. She had never noticed a spouse or girlfriend. Maybe he had been the kind of son to be helpful to his mother or father even later in his life. While she listened to his work, she cooked a bread round on her camp stove which she kept on her porch, her new makeshift kitchen. She would heat the bean soup as well. She hadn’t been camping since she purchased the stove several years ago ahead of an anticipated category 3 hurricane. She and her family had lived through Hurricane Charley but had been weeks without power. She had a fear of a return to that helpless sense. And now, Isla depended on her. Her father would be proud, that she was surviving. She only ever wished she had as much faith.
Isla’s father had left to find his parents, to help them, and he had not returned. In the distance in the direction of the theme parks where Janneth had worked as a creative director, a dark cloud of smoke plumed out over the trees, obscuring the stars. Something in the pit of her stomach warned her it was time to leave. Weeks before, there had been talk on the internet of people fleeing further north, into Canada. It would not be safe here much longer for those who did not have a bunker and an endless supply of resources and weapons.
She held Isla on one hip and with her other arm, lifted the pot of soup and the warm bread. Guntar was bending intently over some project when she approached. She tried to make her presence obvious so he wouldn’t be startled. To her, his truck looked like it could go anywhere. Most days, he had parked it in the lot where it sat unabashedly caked with mud. Now, it couldn’t look more appropriate.
She hoped to appeal to some sense of a protector instinct. When she asked him what his plans were, having laid the fragrant food offering beside his bent knee, he seemed willing enough to share that he was leaving, traveling farther north and over the border.
I think that is very wise, she said.
Next day, she was glad she had added the last of the whiskey flavored coffee to the bean soup for he softly knocked on her door.
Do you need a ride? he said.
And she tried to hide her brimming eyes as she turned to let him in.
Today, on my way home from my booster shot on the other side of town, I drove by a sushi restaurant where I used to pick up food for a man I dated. I would get food for his family on my way over to his house. It was their favorite place, and the order was always the same: hibachi chicken or steak with lots of noodles. They used to like the “white sauce” on their marinated meats and noodles. They used it until everything was drowning in it.
The man was nice enough, but he had issues, like the kind where humor escaped him, but he tried out comedic material he had observed from television: comedy trope-type bits. It never went well. And all I felt was pain. Inside. Like, what am I doing? My therapist used to tell me in my midlife dating, I seemed to pick men I could feel superior to. What exactly was she saying? I think I knew, but I don’t really want to know: I was a bitch.
He was fairly successful as in having a job only someone with a master’s could have. So who was I? And he drove a big red Chrysler. And he supported and raised two daughters. And he took me to New York. Still, all those cups of white sauce. All those poor jokes. (Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all week.)
It was the beginning of the end when he started snubbing me, failing to invite me to his office Christmas party. It was also the beginning of the end when I saw him observing his daughter once. I couldn’t quite make out the nature of the gaze. I had my limitations too. I found it unsettling, but I was also prone to an overactive imagination. So I have been told.
He took me with his daughters to help the oldest pick out a dress for her prom. She admitted to me in the dressing room that her father had never provided her with the means to buy a bra. At the department store, I had her father buy her one. And I had her father buy her a beautiful dress, maybe more “adult” than he had planned to, but it was totally appropriate given her age. The next day, I gave her a purse and dress sandals from my closet. For Christmas, I gave her younger sister a flattening iron, hair products, and lessons from my hairdresser. If this was going downhill, I was going all out.
A fatal blow came when he told me his daughter had pretended to be a “gangster” and had laid the Chrysler passenger seatback to almost fully reclined. Something odd. What female had been sitting/lying there? What had happened in the driveway in the car? The rushed, unsolicited explanation was suspect.
I don’t remember how it ended exactly. But I burned my bridge when it was over, making use of some of my suspicions and questions in a thinly disguised fiction which I posted on an obscure place online. Still, we were social media followers of each other and so he shot me an angry email. I replied that no one would know who I was talking about if anyone even read it in the first place. I had not used names. And none of my friends had even met him, not to mention family. But for sure I had been a bitch. I told him that for him, I would do something I never do for someone else: take down a story. I was still being a bitch. Apparently, it never ends.
It pained me to drive over to that end of town tonight, a place of such reminders. But I needed a booster shot to stay ahead of a mutating virus. So much of my licentious, post-divorce-angry-bad-decision-life lies to the north of me where white sauce is slathered on dishes for obese Americans.
For a while, I had thought I liked being with his family. With everyone I dated, I tried hard to figure out the picture with me in it. How would I feel? What role would I play? Would I be happy? In the long run, I could never form a picture. Maybe I was just play-acting. I was lost.
He probably knew I patronized him. He was smart enough to know that.
I hope those girls are ok.
Last night I had a dream of a man who caught me observing wedding preparations I wasn’t invited to. Somehow, the washing of long strands of hair to be woven into a horse’s mane was a ritual that was involved. If everyone in the preparation party participated, the mane would have been washed a thousand times, some sort of symbolic number. We were seated in a kind of a rotunda, a place of worship. The man was about to “turn me in” for being an interloper but said to me I seemed to be so curious, I might as well have been a part of the ritual. He invited me to go with him and his two boys to lunch. Although I was supposed to meet my sister, I said yes. I figured that somehow, it would all play out.
When I woke, I felt rested. But I don’t know what it is supposed to mean. I am still in a dark wood in the middle of my life.
I have been bragging about how I have been submitting to journals the last couple of weeks. But then again, I’m experiencing how hard it is to submit to journals for any length of time and pursue it conscientiously. I used to send stories out scattershot, more or less, not because I wanted to waste anyone’s time, but because I really didn’t know how to discern which stories would match with which markets. Or, I just didn’t want to feel too much. I could always blame rejection on my ignorance and so I wouldn’t have to feel as bad.
I know more now. And the possibilities don’t look as plentiful; and my voice, range, and writing interests have narrowed. I am glad I know myself more as a writer, that I have “found” my voice and the scope of my style and genre, but this sometimes makes me feel more limited in terms of direction and choices.
I have also been trying to figure out how I might package and promote a collection of dark microfiction, how I might find a possible publisher. Hopefully, there’s a market that would be interested in my particular, and peculiar, collection. At a time when I had more money and the world wasn’t what it is now, I would fly to attend conferences to discover markets and publishers.
Over the years, I have changed in my writing and thoughts about writing, as well as what I value as a person. When I was a newer writer, the world was almost overwhelming because I was stymied by seemingly endless choices and I wasn’t as sure what direction would feel most natural. After I have made a number of choices and made my way down a path, the way has started to seem more predestined. I’m not sure all my choices have left me with the best possibilities. And it’s not cool in America to talk about limitations, but these could also be coming into play.
But, I’m going to be ok for now with living my life and doing the best I can with what I have and staying off of social media when those little feelings of inadequacy come haunting.
The Humans is a dark, atmospheric movie, a tale of unease, about three generations who gather together in a pre-war Manhattan apartment for a holiday meal. Though it is billed as a horror-comedy, the movie itself doesn’t quite match this description. There is lightness at times, but only in relation to the film’s more interior and pain-filled moments. I didn’t know what this movie was at first but became spellbound with each new shot—almost like dark modern art pieces—and each new turn in the story. Part of what captivated me is the way sound is used—the muted effect of conversations and the occasional silence as well as the disturbing noises of a very old building. It is all a slow burn. I feel the idea of it—the realities it portrays—is very “now” though it is timeless as well—the darkness, the starkness of contingent existence, a yearning for hope, light, and connection. Amy Schumer does a magnificent job in this dramatic role. The cast is stellar. I highly recommend it.
I love writing seasonal fiction. But even more than this, I love reading seasonal fiction. This novella is set in the snowy and haunted landscape of Europe’s Black Forest during the time between Christmas and Epiphany. A man returns to his childhood home to figure out what has become of his estranged brother, rumored to have fallen into a depression after the death of his wife. It is a beautiful immersion into the natural world and an exploration of mystery, storytelling, and tradition.
This is a wonderful presentation of the Southern tradition of Hoppin’ John at New Year’s—its history and the dish’s components. And when you eat leftovers the following day, it’s called Skippin’ Jenny and stands for extra good luck because it shows you are thrifty and don’t want to waste what you have. Whatever your food traditions, may your new year find new opportunities for exploration and community. —Margaret
Happy New Year! I’ve decided to start the first weekend of the year by submitting fiction to literary journals. Since mid-December, I’ve submitted eight stories to eight journals. May we all turn a productive new leaf past the pandemic mayhem! Be well. —Margaret
What are you up to? I’m enjoying a Guinness and cooking up some Hoppin’ John, that southern New Year’s tradition. I hope mine turns out. I’m not used to soaking black-eyed peas. The few times I’ve made it, I’ve used canned. Also, I bought a ham hock, which is new for me. I need all this for good luck! If I bomb, I will be desperately tracking the dish or a can of peas down tomorrow, lols. Be well. And Happy New Year. —Margaret
My father, who is now a retired minister, frequently incorporated this story into his sermons. It is beautifully told by this blogger. I know my father would love this post. You can read more about my father here. He wrote a wonderful book about the Biblical figure of Joseph, tying in his own history and the history of our family. He and my mother, a former English teacher, gave me a love of language. I wouldn’t be writing my stories and publishing pieces on my blog were it not for their influence on my life. I encourage you to read the story of my father and his work and follow this amazing blog post. I wish you a holiday of peace and joy, wherever you are. —Margaret
The guns had fallen silent, but soon they would be pounding again, shaking the earth, shaking the rats out of their holes, making the dead tremble out in No Man’s Land. Christmas Day, yet nothing to show for it – no snow, no laughter, no celebration. Nothing to celebrate. Rags of torn clothing hung on […]
Since December 13, I’ve submitted six of my stories to six literary journals, and I’m so excited. The origin of one of the stories dates back to about fifteen years ago, though it has evolved over time. Other stories are more recent. I used to submit stories to several journals on the first pass, but these days I try to be more targeted and really try to figure out which journals would be best suited for my work. I have become braver about submitting work. And although rejection stings a little, self-acceptance and a can-do attitude cover a multitude of woe-is-me’s.
Maybe I’ll settle down for my long winter’s nap, but this is good work for now.
A woman kept a dragon in her closet. In the summer, it was a deep charcoal and in winter, it turned white as snow, like a polar bear. The dragon curled up at the foot of the woman’s bed at night and kept her feet warm with its breath and during the day in winter it roasted chestnuts with its fire so that the woman could make pies and cookies for the children. If a child came by during the day and she and the dragon had just roasted a chestnut, the woman would crack the nut open with her mouth and hand the pulp to the child. She would put a finger up to her mouth and say “shhhh.” Children who told people the woman had a dragon wouldn’t get a chestnut or a ride on the dragon at Christmas and the woman would always know if the children told. The children were a little afraid of the woman, but they were fascinated by the dragon and would do anything to stay in her good graces. One Christmas, Luka fell of the dragon’s back when it came time for his holiday ride, and that’s when they knew Luka had told, that he had been bad, and that he would have to wait another year for a ride. Lucy rode this Christmas on the dragon with Ms. Nettie, the old woman. They rode over Lucy’s old neighborhood where her father still lived, but with his new family. Ms. Nettie knew what this was about without the child speaking a word. When they got home, Ms. Nettie pressed a gold coin into the child’s palm and told her to keep it forever. Lucy hugged the old woman who smelled of burnt things. That night, Ms. Nettie put a blessing on the coin and the dragon lit a candle for her.
Sometimes I feel caught between my best interests as a writer and my needs as a person, especially during this shifting scene of our pandemic and the resultant isolation and lack of community. For example, I find it helps me to share what I have written on my blog. It helps me feel less isolated. Sometimes I may even be fortunate enough to get a comment or two. As a writer, I really need this to keep going. It helps me to produce and move forward. After getting some encouragement, I will often, but not always, take a piece down and try to publish it in a journal.
Not all journals will accept a work that has previously been “published” on a blog, however brief its appearance. I understand and respect that. As a former journal editor, I used to have that same policy. However, I have loosened my views about this. That being said, I recently missed out on the chance to have a story appear in a journal because it briefly appeared on my blog. When it came to signing on the bottom line, I checked with the editor regarding their policy, and sure enough, the piece was ineligible for publication with this particular journal.
Writers have to sometimes do what they need to do to keep the synapses firing. At times, this is the larger concern. Pay for publication is rarely beyond token for short fiction, for example, and in the tradeoff for the psychological gains of an audience, however tenuous that support, I often err on the side of doing what feels best in the moment. I pray for venues that might like what I’ve written and not mind its archived history on some obscure patch of the interweb, a history that will be close to obsolete in a few months’ time after I have deleted my blogpost.
It is a tradeoff, but I do understand editors’ perspectives on this.
Still, the larger value for me at present is happiness.
This is the extent of my Christmas decor this year. On the table beside my chair is a Henry James collection, including one of my favorite stories: “The Turn of the Screw” The Victorians used to share ghost stories around the fire on Christmas. That is the frame for the story within the story in James’s masterpiece. I think that people yearn for meaning over the holidays, especially in these years of our global pandemic, and that is why stories we find in movies and books; houses of worship; and gatherings with friends and family bring such comfort. Be well and reach for a story. —Margaret
Tonight I watched an excellent film called Minari. It is about a Korean American family who moves out to Arkansas to farm and start a new life. I spent part of my childhood in Arkansas. There were farmers in my father’s congregation who endured some of the hardships depicted in the film. This was a unique take. I loved it.
One year, a woman decided to splurge on some expensive silk thigh-highs for the office Christmas party. They looked great with a dress she had bought in New York, one she thought would be classic enough to outlast the whims of fashion. Sure enough, she was a hottie and caught some attention, but she snagged them on a corner of a filing cabinet and had to throw the stockings away when she got home.
The next year at Christmas, the same woman thought it would be nice to splurge on a pair of expensive thigh highs for the party that would be held at the office. The lace bands gripped well and she found a garter belt in her drawer that looked great. Her boss noticed how hot she looked and rubbed his hand along her leg when she was sitting on a desk, drinking. She slipped and snagged the stockings on a drawer. The next morning, she threw the stockings away as well as some things she found in her apartment – a couple of cigars, a kerchief.
The next year, the same woman wanted to do add something to her Christmas party dress that would make her feel sexy. Overworked and overscheduled, she’d been feeling more rat than woman. She took a bath before the party, drank champagne, and put on these great silk thigh highs. Why hadn’t she thought of these before? When she got to the party, she was so drummed up she hit on a young male intern. When she went into the office the next day, still in her thigh highs, there was a note on her desk from her boss, telling her what she’d done was most inappropriate. “This is a warning,” the note said. When she looked down, she saw a huge runner in her stockings, starting at the knee.
The next year, the same woman saw these thigh highs on sale. In a kind of mad frenzy, she gathered up as many as she could carry and took them to the register. The saleswoman gave her a little smile, just a slight upturning of the lips. “This is a great price,” said the woman, ringing up the stockings. She agreed and tried to ignore what the saleswoman might be insinuating. She could wear whatever stockings she wanted for whatever reason. That night, for the party, the woman decided to stuff extra stockings into her purse. Sometimes these silk stockings tend to snag, or at least she’d heard, and she was intent on being more polished about her look these days though she wasn’t about to stoop to nylon, at least not for the office Christmas party. She also remained sober. She had filed the warning the previous year among her pay stubs and came across it from time to time. She went home with all of her stockings intact and put them away neatly in her drawer the next day.
This woman became so particular about silk stockings, especially the kind that come up to the thigh, that she put it in her will that she be buried wearing this particular kind of hosiery. When she had passed, her daughter brought to the mortician the stockings her mother had requested for her coffin attire. The mortician was a friend of this woman’s daughter and was surprised the woman had worn thigh highs while alive and wanted to don them while dead. She was a crusty old broad. Plus, the stockings themselves were incredibly expensive as was obvious from the feel of them, their quality, the packaging. The mortician slipped off the stockings she was wearing and slipped on the woman’s stockings and garter. The lace gripped her thighs and her legs felt great. She put her own stockings on the corpse and wheeled it into cold storage. She called her boyfriend and they snagged the dead woman’s stockings all over the place.
I’m considering crossing town tomorrow night for a little jazz education at an Asian fusion restaurant/lounge. A musician will be teaching some insights to some wannabe jazz cat groupies lol. I’ll play it by ear. In the meantime, there is Freddie. And Miles.
To keep the Freddie mood going, try out the Freddie Freeloader list on youtube. Primo.
When I took command of my dog in the presence of men is when I knew I had turned a corner, when I rejected the men who didn’t understand dogs, worship dogs like I did, men who tried to be the alpha to my dog which was easy to do with my small submissive fluffy she-dog. Some men were weird, would treat her like she was their very own bitch. My little darling died of heart failure and after a period of grief, I began to take my vitamins and sharpen my nails. I got me a man dog. Muscled haunches, shoulders, and jaws, bite up to 743 pound-force per square inch, power on a choke collar, loyal to the death, command ready. I loved this dog as much as any other but in a different way. He required I command respect. He required I show who’s boss. Further, he would brook no suitor’s disrespect toward me, not even a hint. That low, rumbling thunder growl was my built-in red flag. The moment Joe shambled into my life, held his hand upside down for Brutus to sniff and approach unthreatened was the moment my life clicked into place.
When I have to say goodbye to family these days, I get a little emotional. This takes various forms. After family departed from my little place on Thanksgiving Day, I did some binge-watching of series on Hulu and Amazon. I have now moved on to movies and music. To help salve the wound, I am going back to my birth state, Texas, the early ’80s, kicked off with the stripped-down noir masterpiece Blood Simple starring Frances McDormand. I had seen it before several years ago but was not attending to its quiet power. Especially now, so many movies rely on non-diegetic sound and special effects to move and inform the viewer. This one lets the viewer fill in all the blanks, much like excellent minimalistic fiction. I think this film captures the essence of the state. And nothing else says a type of sound and aesthetic from the region and time period like Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.”
On Thanksgiving, I sit in my room after my guests have gone, a room darkened by the dying day. From my bed, I can see my grandmother’s Audubon Society print of blue hummingbirds. It is cream-colored and blends with my walls except for the mat and gold beaded frame. If you were here, I could show you the shadow created by the white lights in a wreath on my secretary desk, a wreath placed around a tall cream vase. I like the way the shadows create a frame around the frame of my grandmother’s Audubon society print.
When I open my bedroom door and step into the family room, I am grateful I can still smell the huge feast my son and I made in the adjoining kitchen and hear echoes of the laughter of my company over prosecco and my sister’s dessert. I am grateful for the items I have managed to bring with me to furnish this place, items that create meaning, items everyone can enjoy such as furniture to sit upon and tables for plates and wine, items that are pleasing to the eyes and spirit.
But for now, in the silence and the dark illuminated by tiny lights, I am grateful to write about things as tiny as shadows, for the gift of tiny things, for the things we need to live and fight, for small instances of beauty, for signs of life—joy, and even pain.
Barbie—lady boobies, blond hair, pointy toes. I held her by the waist in the room with the spindle bed, the room in the dark church manse in Texas, the home my new mother and father had prepared for us. Barbies were our first gift. That early memory began my years-long obsession of hoarding my dollar-a-week allowance in order to purchase my tiny blond god raiment. Her richer patrons—my parents—provided a bicycle, a convertible, Ken, a working shower, a pool, a dream townhome. When I dressed as a Kilgore Rangerette with my younger sister, complete with white boots and a broad brim hat, it was Barbie I hoped would approve. Barbie. Barbie. Barbie. My preacher father did not grasp the extent of my idolatry, but he was not the kind of father to deprive his children of their obsessions.
I’ve seen Over the Rhine in concert a few times at smaller venues. This is one of the songs that especially means so much. It makes me feel nostalgic and hopeful. Many of their songs do. They are amazingly talented, gorgeous, and kind.
On Thanksgiving, a picture of a young man’s face popped up on the news. My breath caught. It was the same young man who had stood out in the freezing cold last year on an Orlando Christmas Eve, trying to flag down a ride. The buses had stopped running for the holiday. When I see his face on the news, I remember how much he resembled my late brother, in height, stance, and mannerisms. My brother had died Christmas Eve twenty-five years before, careening around one of the lakes where many had died. It had nearly killed my mother.
That night we were driving home, I begged my husband to give him a ride. We had our baby in the car as well as my elderly mother-in-law. It was a huge risk, but I couldn’t take leaving this guy outside in these conditions.
The young man was on the news for walking into a bank, naked. When I saw his face, I thought: Some mother’s heart is breaking.
My husband took me aside as I served our guests. What is wrong? he said. I could tell he didn’t see what I saw, didn’t remember this young man who had appeared on the news we always watched while we drank our morning coffee. I hadn’t said anything. He had barely tolerated the risk I took with our family and I didn’t want to dredge it up again.
The young man’s face, that fragile face, penetrating blue eyes, so much like my brother.
For years, my mother had been unable to enjoy holidays. She now convalesces in a memory care home.
I made it through Thanksgiving meal but let my guests help themselves to dessert and the way to the door.
I rocked my child to sleep, savoring his warm cheek on my chest.
I closed the door to my bedroom and wrote a story for my brother.
I have learned a few things by being someone with hair. Hair can help you win and it can cause you to lose—affections, jobs, confidence. It can help you lie and it can betray you. By its presence or absence, color or cut, it can reveal others’ true feelings and motives towards you. My hair is not part of my body, it’s a chameleon, an animal that shows by its changing nature what life is.
When I was young, my mother loved to fix my towheaded hair, pulling the sides up into a yarn bow—red, yellow, white, blue—depending on the season, depending on my outfit. Although I was adopted, my hair when I was young was the same color as my parents’ hair and matched their hopes, though when I grew up and it darkened, I had to dye it to stay in line with what they wanted for me. It was what good young women did. It was what my mother did and I would fall along her path. I had beautiful, light hair and married well.
The year after my divorce, I had to get a buzz cut from my favorite hairdresser. Chemo was causing hair to fall on my shoulders in places like the grocery. Although I had always been very vain about my hair, and it was still shoulder length and blond, it was thinning and falling out because of treatment. I began to think about those poor people in the grocery. What if my hair fell on their food? I sat with my sister in my hairdresser’s living room and we held hands as my head made its debut as an egg.
After treatment, I eventually shed wigs, not being able to take the itchiness in the Florida heat. I read my creative work in a museum downtown with some friends. I dressed up for the reading, but so much of what I had considered “me” had been shed and now, it was penciled in eyebrows and short dark hair, just as short as a pixie if not shorter. “What happened to your hair?” The organizer said, aghast, not realizing that the long blond hair I wore to the last reading was a wig. And that’s when I knew: You have to learn to love yourself no matter what you look like. Some people prefer people pressed from molds.
I thank my chameleon hair. She has always been wiser than I have been. I know so much more because I have had hair, no hair, worn other people’s hair. I could never have done it without her though I must say, I have experienced some pain in her lessons. No pain, no gain as they say.
What with the sight of one of the receptionists stumbling into my general physician’s office looking tumbled down drunk, her ignoring me at the desk, the other receptionist seeming sweet, apologizing for her colleague, but speaking too softly so I can’t hear, and then asking questions I had long since answered on an intake, and then not hearing my concerns about the lab not having my correct address and I, thinking maybe she can’t hear me because of my mask or the counter-to-ceiling glass partition or because she didn’t like the look of me with my red hello kitty t and my pink puffy headband with my now shorter hair and the leather backpack I sometimes wear on both shoulders and my height being very tall and my frame being reminiscent of my biological grandfather of six foot five descended from full blooded Cherokee, I repeat myself several times and then she turns to her colleague and I know she hasn’t understood a word I have said or she hasn’t listened, and so I semi-lose it in a way that it is not frequent for me, though not quite in a youtube-video-lose-it way, but so that I see her flinch slightly, though the check-out receptionist kinda digs me and maybe that woman drives her nuts too, and what with all of that, and Florida having finally implemented infrastructure measures, and high-speed rail being built but a few miles from my apartment, and at night the ground thundering slightly, and hearing it the first first night I was terrified but then remembered the petition that was being signed, though by that time it was too late, petitions hardly ever mattering anyway, and my busy neighbor overhead this morning whose child is often screaming and running around as early as 6:00 a.m., though this morning she was doing a craft project using a tiny harmer to drive in something placed on the floor, and what with all that I stand in the doctor’s reception, over-warm, my face sweating under my mask and the taste of iron on my tongue—blood.
I will miss Thanksgiving at Aunt Mareen’s this year. In a strange turn of events, Covid has wiped out or incapacitated many of the city’s fat Santas and Aunt Mareen has signed up for holiday appearances as Mrs. Claus. She is skinny as a string bean and not super Claus-like we mused as we thought of how to keep her spirit alive at our table. We decided we needed to borrow her plastic pilgrims and Indians for our tablescape to set alongside her favorite solid cranberry jelly with can rings. She sent us selfies of her on the Santa throne at Disney Springs. There was enough room for children to sit beside her on the massive red chair. As a former underwater Weeki Wachee entertainer, she looked right in her element. We were jealous of her little believers. We said they must be spoiled little monsters.
Ladies, do not show your dark unpleasantness, your unhappy, sardonic droll creative pieces. Pursue art in keeping in your faith that beauty is in what is pleasant and proportionate, not in what is felt or experienced. Don’t you know that in prizes given by organizations such as The Perfect Ladies Literary Society we have criteria in keeping with being perfect literary ladies? Unwieldy desires expressed in unbalanced, unwelcome forms surely will not find favor and will lock you into obscurity and loneliness. Do not indulge in darkness—such as anger and bitterness—and in what is occasionally referred to as “truth.” Don’t even entertain this in your creative studies so that these nasty habits cannot take hold. Let us be charming and beautiful. Cause no discomfort. Instead, let lightness of heart and hand win the day. You will be happy. So will we.
Every year for Thanksgiving, Ms. Myska loved to give of herself in a way that was wholly singular. However, being a low-key mouse type of person, she sought no fanfare. And because this year, she was without her beloved Queen Annie, her Coton de Toulears, the holiday was threatening to be dreadfully lonely. Ergo, she became prodigious in gifting—gluing little chocolate kisses to her dribbles and drabbles of written thought, and leaving her “sweet love grams” in random places.
Here is the story she decided to duplicate in her own hand this year, leaving copies in coffee shops and bars; neighborhood book exchange boxes and libraries; churches and synagogues; gyms and homeless shelters: “Do not let bitterness build up within you. Let it flow out in your tears, flowing out of you and down and around, becoming lakes and ponds, rivers meeting with the sea and supporting creatures, evaporating and feeding life, becoming rain that quenches fire and thirst, renewing, refreshing, sustaining, gentling.”
I had only been in town a year when I was sent an invitation to the Michael Smith Club. I had no idea what it was, but when Julie found out, she was crushed. Each year, she thought she and her husband would become members but they never received an invite. If anyone deserved membership to anything, it was Julie. She was hilarious, well-read, generous. I was a bit of an introverted milquetoast by comparison, though I suspected it had to do with my husband’s lucrative career. I blew off the invitation, didn’t say anything to my husband. Bitches.
I was riding to Daytona with Mac on his Harley that day we stopped by Cassadaga. We had been dating a couple of months and in that time, his mother had died. In fact, I had met Mac at the hospice center where he and a couple of friends sat beside her bed. She had already passed when I arrived. Looking back, I realized it was quite strange that I thought it might be a sign of support to show up there. It was just too personal a family situation for me, a relative stranger.
And yet, Mac had wanted me to help him plan with the funeral home, choose his mother’s clothing for the casket. I made a lot of strange decisions in those days, fresh out of divorce, fresh out of cancer treatment. I had been too used to over-involvement as a full-time mother and wife. I had been too anxious to please, too desirous of affection.
Our reader at Cassadaga did a three-card reading for me, based on the three figures in the lovers’ card in which the man on the right rules the conscious mind, the woman on the left represents the subconscious, and the angel standing over the two represents who we think we are, who we think God is. The tarot reader asked me what I wanted to know from the cards.
“Is this like talking to God?” I say, knowing my conservative minister father would be devastated by this situation.
“You can think of it like this,” she said.
I say: “I want to know who I am at this moment.”
The Three of Pentacles, Lord of Material Works, was revealed to be upright and at the angel position of the lovers’ card, meaning I am focused on career. The Page of Pentacles was also upright and in the male position of the lovers’ card meaning I am entering a new phase of life, but in the female or subconscious position, The Star was reversed, showing fear.
On the back of Mac’s bike on the way to the beach, I knew I wouldn’t stay with him long. We were both injured children lacking in some adult capacities to love well. But for the moment, I enjoyed the hum of the engine, the heat of the sun. The water would feel good on my feet. Mac had a good smile.
Pop a .5 mg tablet from the klonopin blisterpack. Let it dissolve on your tongue along with the memory of your panic in the convenience store while your three-year-old son sits in the car – air-conditioned and locked, but still – Baby Ruth or Reese’s? – your mystery disorder having cropped up comorbidly with your move from a three-bedroom two-story Florida cracker house into a temporary two-bedroom apartment, your husband working through the holiday, your father-in-law having drawn a precise map of where every collapsed piece of furniture will be placed, your mother-in-law needing help finding things and on the brink of a migraine, your toddler needing everything, and issues in your marriage eclipsed by events collapsing, falling, descending.
And yet…you are still years from the moment your doctor stops prescribing because of new regulations – only a day-or-two- medication he says, and you have been on a maximum dosage for thirteen years. You are still years before your therapist suggests that as a mother, you are unfit.
Hello, and good evening. I want to thank you for this Lifetime Achievement Award in Escapism. Had it not been for you and others recognizing in me a strong desire to check out, I would not be standing before you tonight. Looking back, I realize I have probably been lost in a total of over one hundred thousand worlds whether it be dreams, ancient histories, wishful thoughts, overthinking, fantasies, streaming shows, social media, and youtube cat videos. And sure, sometimes I have managed to put my escapist visions on paper in thinly shrouded fictions. In fact, if you will look under your seat tonight, you will find how I have used your life, my perceptions of your life, and my feelings about you in a story. As fellow escapists, we never say whether we like how one of us portrays another of our kind, we just play by the rules and agree it won’t devolve into bloodsport. If you accept my version of you or at least find it interesting, let’s work on a small biopic or I’m good for hire as a ghostwriter. If you’re mad as hell, I’m not here for that sweeties! Cheers!
When I was ten, I wore YoYo sandals, Gloria Vanderbilts. Jayne Anne Westerfield taught me the disco line dance. “Are you clicking your teeth to the beat?” she said. I stopped clicking, tried to be cool like Jayne Anne. You were nobody in Arkansas if you couldn’t “Fever” dance. Chad had taught me “Cat Scratch Fever” on my guitar. Karen’s big sister used to drag Cherry Street, something “cool.” But Karen wasn’t cool anymore; her mom was a klepto. No one was as cool and dismissive as Jayne Anne. When I moved to Florida, I realized Arkansas was nowhere.
I didn’t completely follow the instructions, but I put my story in the general vicinity of a bodybuilder going on a disappointing blind date. Admittedly, I did a little research on the sport of bodybuilding. I loved a documentary narrated by Mickey Rourke called Generation Iron. My main character is based very loosely on one of its wholly singular subjects.
Ever since he saw a picture of the warrior and Ethiopian king Memnon in a book at the public library, he knew his destiny: To be a god. But the path was not straight. There were foster families and even prison. In faith, he grew and sculpted his body, grew his long warrior braids, performed poses in subways, fought his demons and doubts, became an artist, both in his body and in his love songs.
He was desirous of a queen to see him to a Las Vegas Mount Olympus for the title: Mr. Olympia. A trainer friend asked some lady friends for a reference, some ideas. Finally, someone was found. She was gorgeous, his impromptu female matchmaker said, offering a picture. Yes, he concurred, a beauty, as he noted a fall of blond hair, a sleek body, a sweet smile.
The night of the meet, she put him at ease with her smile and infectious laughter. She seemed to like him. He felt himself relax. When their dinner arrived, they took their first bite. And that’s when his insides dissolved, but not in a good way. She chewed her food like the evil half-serpent Echidna who devoured her victims after dragging them down to hell!
To this day, he shivers to think of it. He struggles to put it out of his mind before competition, before the front double bicep, front lat spread, side chest, back double bicep. Perfect love cannot be found in life but in art, he says to himself drawing deep from within to flex. It it is found in muscle upon muscle, note upon note, braid upon braid ad infinitum.
I need to smell my mother’s perfume. She is losing her memories but I keep them for her and we tell stories, inspired by Shalimar. I love the smell of classic Listerine on my father’s breath, original flavor. I love the tall smell of my son—the outdoors, his running by Tampa Bay, his cutting up, his brilliant smile. I revel in the smell of my sister’s laughter, always so light and beautiful, like her favorite prosecco. I savor a long history with my niece and nephew, the making-cookies-smell when they would stay over. I remember the chocolate orange memory of making them milkshakes and they, along with my son, drank them on our porch, my dog hovering near, our Bouvier des Flanders—he, a black hulk of a goofy dog with his water-logged smell (R.I.P.) I miss the smell of my brother, his blue-eyed smell, his cigarette and beach smell, his surfboard wax smell, the warm cinnamon smell of his love for animals. I love the smell of roses I buy for myself and the honeysuckle smell of the bougainvillea I’ve transplanted around my Florida yard, these hardy plants that miraculously and profusely bloom. My life smells like the days when the devil beats his wife—sunshine mixed with rain. Nothing is better than the smell of rain, even in a hurricane, even when everything is about to blow. You feel yourself the most alive then, even when you could die, be known no more, disappear. When the sun shines during rain, there is the smell is of wet pavement and earth and your face is soaked but you are no longer burning on a hot day.
I had lost my alimony, the pandemic being what it is, the source of my income having passed. I sold everything, including my car, furniture, and almost all possessions. I managed to find night work as a turndown attendant for Hilton. I managed to put a roof over my head, but just. I now qualified for low-income housing.
On my first bus ride into work, I sat near the back, hoping to avoid passengers peopling rows on their return journeys home, their night jobs at Disney and surrounding theme parks.
But then, wouldn’t you know who climbed aboard: a repairman for my former apartment. It was the kind of apartment you had to be wealthy to afford. Tony had become overly friendly during those last few months of my residence. Water had flooded into my hallway and soaked the carpet. He spent as much time flirting as trying to solve an increasingly dire issue. He asked me if I wanted to get a massage with him and went so far as to touch my back.
I pulled up my jacket hood and rang the bell to get off. I had managed to avoid him. One more month to find another job. One more month until eviction.
I will never forget that stretch of road outside of Starke, Florida, as we headed up to my parents’ for Thanksgiving. I was singing my favorite Alison Krauss song playing on the CD player and our child was in the back. Apropos of nothing, you banged your hand on the wheel, “The sound of your voice, that strained, breathy quality just makes me want to go out of my brain.” And then the silence, the burning shame, the hours of the drive spent thinking how hideous my voice had been all this time when all along I hadn’t really considered it.
[I am writing this sitting outside a car dealership where I am having an expensive engine diagnostic which could lead to an expensive repair. There are sirens going off, lots of exhaust. This major road is considered a kind of East coast vice alley. And I have never written a story on my phone before. I am determined to have Flashnano adventures. Happy Flashnano day 2 fellow scribes.]
Frankie stroked his pussy, the ginger, while Greta fixed her eyeliner before the gold antique mirror in his retro-styled apartment. She always stopped by before dates to make sure she didn’t look crazy. Or desperate.
He was always cool as a stone sphinx. “You be the judge, not the other way around, honey.” He said, extending his drink out to her, a skinny ‘Rita, and she tripped over the calicos. How did cats always know she hated them? They loved her more for it and wanted to be as physically close as possible.
She slurped down the boozy lime coolness.
“Come back here after,” Frankie said. Actually, that was usually the best part of her night.
When the evening was over and her date had walked her to her car, he wouldn’t allow her to open the door and get inside. Something in his eyes had alarmed her, something dark.
One thing I enjoy about flash fiction writing is that it often involves community.
A few years ago, I joined an online platform for poets and writers. We frequently posted new short pieces and received encouragement and feedback. It was my first time interacting with other writers who, like me, were writing small, concentrated work.
I have also been involved in a flash fiction competition that was held in a public space. Let’s just say, I didn’t win and the handling of the competition was humiliating. In general, writing can be competitive for certain people and in certain settings. That just isn’t me.
But having a short piece to read at a creative event is a great way to participate in sharing with others. Participants often read for five minutes and flash writing fits into this (I use a shorter 250-word piece for a five-minute reading and a one thousand word piece if I have 20-30 minutes.). A meaningful night organized by a friend had some of us reading our stories in an outdoor museum setting. At the end of the night, I got to read a piece with a band playing in the background.
This month, I have been participating in the NYC Midnight 250 word flash fiction competition. Although “competition” is part of the title, the meaningful part for me has been interacting with others—reading their work, giving feedback, receiving feedback.
Next month, I will be involved with Nancy Stohlman’s Flashnano. Some are meeting on social media to share their short pieces and interact. I often meet new people and this has taken on a whole new meaning for me during this season of pandemic.
While public spaces are shuttered to creative gatherings, it has been a relief to find solace among fellow writers online.
Here is something I am following this year and will be participating in as inspired. Perhaps you’d like to join me! Nancy Stohlman is one talented writer who inspires many other writers in the craft. Enjoy your Tuesday—Margaret
Since we got SO MANY amazing guest prompt submissions, I’ve decided we are going to celebrate our 10 Year anniversary with a month ofALL GUEST PROMPTS(credited of course) from you, the people who actually make FlashNano what it is. It’s going to be extra amazing!
Now dogless, unemployed, and frail during the pandemic, Greta found something oddly comforting in the mechanized kitchen trashcan in that it registered her presence. On Halloween, the lid clamped down on her hand and pulled her inside. There was no dog to sound the alarm.
When I was alive, there had been a presence in my room. I used to lie frozen. The night my body gave way to sleep, icy hands stretched out to choke me. In my immortal form, I linger in dark corners, jealous of the sleep-rich.
Life as a domme demanded she be prickly. With few other resources, this idea for making money had somehow evolved but humiliating took commitment. When a man begged her to freak him out using his credit card, she was sold.
I seem to be doing some documentary movie therapy this weekend. But some parts of my week have been stressful, trying to find some work in order to cover rising costs, medical appointments, diagnostic tests. Ah yes.
Today I watched the documentary Andy Irons: Kissed by God. Andy Irons was a world champion surfer who had bipolar disorder. The filming, setting, and beautiful people make this documentary truly breath-taking. And the story is captivating.
Something an uncle told me, an uncle who was a psychiatrist, was that people with bipolar can often achieve in spite of bipolar, not because of it. (Sometimes bipolar people stop taking their meds because they believe it is the bipolar that gives them their gifts and that the meds will take it away.)
This documentary presents a great story of a person’s journey to find himself, find love, create a legacy.
Surf culture is a part of life down in Florida and I have known at least one person who has done this on a competitive level. I love the beach and hope to live there and am actively looking for an opportunity. I hope to have the chance to walk my old bod down the shore on the reg.
I was diagnosed with bipolar about twenty three years ago. I take my medication and on the whole don’t struggle with addiction, excluding one over-prescribed drug I am now free of. Something the documentary reminds me of, however, is that bipolar is lifelong. Something I learned about from the film that I hadn’t heard from any doctor I see is that bipolar is now thought of as a whole-body disorder; it affects many of the body’s functions; it can contribute to more rapid aging. It is being thought of now as an energy disorder rather than simply a mood disorder. Here is an expert on the cutting edge who appears in the documentary.
The documentary is beautiful and in an interesting way, therapeutic with all of its incorporation of the natural setting of the ocean and water.
I want to recommend the documentary The Waiting Room, a cinéma vérité documentary about an emergency room in a public hospital in Oakland, California. Stories of people living on the financial edge and the dedicated care workers doing their best to provide help are often devastating and heartbreaking. But there are many moments of light and hope, especially embodied by a nurse who does health checks in admissions. She reminds me of a phlebotomist I used to see when I had to go into the hospital for treatment. She always knew where to find a vein, what to say to put me at ease, and how to inject the moment with humor. In The Waiting Room, the ER serves a patient population without insurance, those in danger of slipping through the system. There are stories and scenarios that caused me to tear up. So much of our entertainment can be derivative and deadening. Though this documentary concerns itself with life and death, it is truly alive in the most human sense.
When her cancer returned, she held an impromptu dance in the cancer center lobby. She blasted Foxy Brown’s “Candy,” giving a special dance tribute to the administrator who tried to charge $1500 before her first treatment. Other patients, bald and hobbled from treatment, shuffled their feet and laughed.
She had vowed she would do it, end her life today. But she had planned Timmy’s birthday party. She stood in the midst of a party store aisle, her face sweating under her mask. Maybe after her son’s birthday? Tears blurred the colors of the garish decorations. She couldn’t decide.
I am watching Dopesick on Hulu, a drama exploring the rise of the opioid crisis. I highly recommend it. It has me remembering the old days of trying to wean myself off Klonopin and the initial cold turkey approach fallout. When I decided to do a search of its relative addictiveness compared to opioids, I found it right up there with the top 9. At one time, I had a blog under a pseudonym where I wrote about my experience. I wish you well on this Thursday, ten days until the eve of All Hallows.
The trees have planned their revolt against a country using them to string up men by the neck until they are dead, the burning cross somewhere nearby or else deep in the heart. It doesn’t take a hurricane to uproot the trees and send them thundering down. It takes injustice.
There was a time before the draining of Florida swampland when giant cypress towered over one hundred feet tall. In the late 19th century, cypress were felled for shingles. Daily I drive over a bridge spanning the headwaters of the Everglades: Shingle Creek. I hear cypress cousins bemoaning lost histories.
I submitted my 250-word fiction to NYC Midnight, roughly 12 hours ahead of the deadline. I have been assigned to a group of writers who have been given the same parameters of genre, action, and word. Submissions are anonymous. This is all most mysterious. But fun.
In four hours, I will receive a prompt that will begin my 24-hour journey in a 250-word writing contest. I am providing the link because there’s still time to register if you are interested. I’ve heard good things and participants get to meet other participants and receive feedback. There are three rounds (ding-ding). Enjoy your Friday.
No one has a complete picture, even if they were “there in person,” but…
Everyone knows what they think happened, and what it meant to them
This is true in both fiction and non-fiction.
True, journalists, as non-fiction writers, are supposed to render facts as objectively as they can. But honest, objective fact-finders know that even after interviewing eyewitnesses (“blind men”) their summary will inevitably fall short of “complete.” Hence, “rioting occurred” is more accurate than “the protest turned into a riot” (did everyone riot? Were there no objectors?). And “many wept” is more accurate than “there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience” (did no one roll their eyes and visit the loo?). There’s no such thing as a complete picture, and so, in essence, there’s no such…
Inspired by the BBC select documentary The Pregnant Man, Amazon Prime Video
Respect the woman who became a man who became a woman to carry his wife’s baby and who became a man again. He has lived a thousand dreams of metamorphosis, possibilities curled up inside, waiting for change.
During the Depression, four men took life insurance policies out on drunkard Mike “The Durable.” They poisoned him, froze him, gave him a broken glass sandwich, hit him with a car. Finally, they killed him with carbon monoxide. They were scorched in the electric chair but Mike became a legend.
Have you seen the movie News of the World? It stars Tom Hanks who plays a Civil War veteran turned itinerant storytelling newsman. He agrees to return an orphan who was taken in by the Kiowa. They travel across Texas and face many dangers.
I loved it. And it would be a good family film. There is violence, but not a crazy amount. The young actress Helena Zengel plays the child and she’s amazing.
It may be that I’m originally a Texan and have considered moving back to Texas, but likely it is the stellar performance of Mr. Hanks and Ms. Zengel and the high production value of the film that makes me really glad I watched this.
Bottle broken my promise to you left the divorce papers on the hall tree your mother’s wedding gift to us to whom was also given a baby a name you used to call me whose life consumed with mid-day drinks, as well as midnight when I see our end.
Swollen white molded strawberries like victims of Pompeii; forgotten raw brisket for marinating, bloodying the sink; neglected half-dry clothes mildewing the wash—the ghost of your mother tisks from the corner. You bristle. She used to say you thought highly of yourself. Now you know you are no one, nothing.
If you love myths, legends, history, folklore, I recommend the blog “Under the Influence.” The latest post is about a queen. It’s fantastic.
“The evolution of Queen Semiramis from Queen Sammuramat provided an example for other female rulers to follow. Her legendary and mythical status was achieved possibly because it was unusual in patriarchal societies for females to be allowed to shine or display their intelligence and talents. According to these traditions, she proved herself to be as good or better than males in her governing abilities, civil building works, and military prowess. This was unusual and may be part of the reason why she was elevated to such status. Her mystique and appeal lasted for centuries after her death and was the inspiration for many works in art and literature…
Over the ages her achievements became embellished and exaggerated and new stories emerged about her. In many ways the little that was known about her added to her mystique and after her death the myths and legends grew. In later times was held as a model for good female rulers who exhibited similar characteristic…such as Margret I of Denmark, and Catherine the Great of Russia who were called Semiramis of the North…”
Queen Semiramis was a mythical queen who appears in many myths, legends, works of art and literature through the ages. She was was believed to have evolved from a real, historical QueenSammuramat who ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire for a brief period. Here we look briefly what is known of the historical Queen Sammuramat and her transformation to the mythical, semi-divine, Queen Semiramis.
Sammuramat ruled the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the ninth century after her husband, King Shamshi-Adad V, died until her young son Adad-nirari III came of age in 806 BC. It is not clear whether she ruled as regent or in some other capacity but it was only believed to have lasted for five years. According to the myths Semiramis ruled for 42 years as queen regnant but it is necessary to separate the historical from the…
I figured out my blogging “bug” that I posted about yesterday. Turns out there was an issue with my not changing the settings. Since I have started engaging in Inktober, more posts appear on my initial page because of how short these posts have been. And so, I needed to increase the count for the number of posts that appear in the feed. So, mea culpa. The bees have the right idea here: Let’s go back to sleep. It is nice to know even lovely bees have a siesta. Enjoy your Saturday.
I happened to scroll down my posts and noticed quite a few posts are showing up again further down in the posting order. All of these posts should only appear in order at the top of the page as this is how they are designated in my settings. I have so little buzz today, WP. You wouldn’t try to harsh it? If I see a repeat of this darling bug further down in my posts, I may have to wonder if my blog is haunted by ghosts of posts past.
I have two terrible memories of elementary school. One was of poor Leah, large as a whale, falling off the roundabout and all of us flying past, kicking her while she cried. The other was a nightmare around this time of a tiny bird dying because we stoned it.
It’s a cold October night, and you are watching your son play soccer. In the bleachers, your ex is snuggling with his new, younger wife. The cruel wind cuts through your coat, a reminder that you are merely a womb and have served your purpose.
If you love literature and you love to watch movies, I would recommend the movie Genius with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nichole Kidman, and Laura Linney. Firth plays Maxwell Perkins, a book editor at Charles Scribner’s Sons who edited the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Law plays Thomas Wolfe, the famous writer of Look Homeward, Angel which was also edited by Perkins.
If you watch this movie, be prepared to feel something. Well, I guess I should only speak for myself. I’ve watched it before but I find in revisiting movies during the pandemic, certain movies almost feel new to me. I don’t remember getting as emotional. Our world has changed so much.
Often the time of the first impulse to write something is the best time to take it down. For me, impulses don’t age well. It is like knowing you love someone but delaying a response to their own love declaration for you—whether your response is a few seconds late or minutes overdue or you are tardy a few days or longer, heaven forbid.
An idea touches down on my noggin and it’s as if it is saying: “Here I am, waiting to bless you.” But then sometimes I think I must say: “I’ve told myself I absolutely must be serious about such and such (insert adult task) and if you would be so obliging as to interrupt me at a more convenient time.” A few hours or days later, I’m ready to rock and roll with my lovely and I’ve lost a sense of the tone, the pitch, the rhythm. It had a real tangible feel and now it’s just a bit of yellowed nostalgia like aged, delicate paper. I can’t connect words to an old feeling. I can’t recapture the mouth feel (Yeah, that’s a food metaphor).
Why is it hard to write and be a normal person? Because it is. I think early clues of my own “abnormality” would be others’ teasing me for often spacing out or being slow to join classmates in learning activities. Surely that was an early form of the waking dreams I was subject to and later pursued as an adult, attempting to capture them in writing. And yet, to write what I hope to write and that is, the things that are most important to my heart, the stories and words that feel most urgent, means I can’t allow myself to get “too old”—allow myself to get stodgy, curmudgeonly, closed. I have to walk around open constantly and willing to take down words on command. I guess the only hindrance would be lack of writing instruments or going under sedation for a procedure. Or of course, driving.
A couple of days ago, I thought of my response to the Inktober prompt “star” (see my earlier posting of Inktober prompts). I had a sense of the sound, the feel of how I wanted to approach it though I said to myself, you know, I want to learn more about meteor showers and where to watch them. This little research made me even more excited about the prompt. But instead of marrying my feeling and early sense of sound together with my research, I left my love alone to pursue some chores.
What I have now is alright, but it wasn’t what I intended. But this often happens. We live in the world. The world won’t stop for us to write and then carry on once we decide to engage in the world again. Then again, our beloved conception of an idea won’t always be present for us in the same way it was initially, though she is often present for a competent dance or two. This has been my experience. It is both thrilling and frustrating, just like love.
A note from yours truly: One thing I love about WordPress is witnessing beautiful art and writing by people I follow. The memory of this work and the story that accompanies it has stayed with me this past couple of weeks and I thought I would share it. I hope you will check out this blog.—Margaret
Gotta song that you think
goes with one of our vases?
We invite you to add yours
in the comments!
How are you this Friday night? I keep hearing this song. I heard Peggy Lee’s cover in the soundtrack for the movie The Savages with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney. Peggy Lee’s cover is beautiful, heartfelt, and pristine. And The Savages is a great movie. I’m in the middle of Reds (all three hours of it) starring Diane Keaton, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, and others. Keaton sings this beautifully.
But I like this homespun cover. I’ve always thought it would be great to learn the ukulele. I looked at them when I was last in a guitar shop, which was ages ago, certainly pre-pandemic. I have long since neglected my guitar, so why not take up with another instrument. This is just the kind of song I would like to learn.
This singer gives it lots of heart and character. It seems just the right style for the lyrics. The sheet music was published in 1894. The composer was W.H. Petri and the lyricist was Philip Wingate. A cursory search on Google reveals that this was commonly sung by grandmothers in the early 1900s.
The House of Dust: A symphony by Conrad Aiken
The snow floats down upon us, mingled with rain . . .
It eddies around pale lilac lamps, and falls
Down golden-windowed walls.
We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain,
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose,
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while
We shall lie down again.
The snow floats down upon us, we turn, we turn,
Through gorges filled with light we sound and flow . . .
One is struck down and hurt, we crowd about him,
We bear him away, gaze after his listless body;
But whether he lives or dies we do not know.
One of us sings in the street, and we listen to him;
The words ring over us like vague bells of sorrow.
He sings of a house he lived in long ago.
It is strange; this house of dust was the house I lived in;
The house you lived in, the house that all of us know.
And coiling slowly about him, and laughing at him,
And throwing him pennies, we bear away
A mournful echo of other times and places,
And follow a dream . . . a dream that will not stay.
Down long broad flights of lamplit stairs we flow;
Noisy, in scattered waves, crowding and shouting;
In broken slow cascades.
The gardens extend before us . . . We spread out swiftly;
Trees are above us, and darkness. The canyon fades . . .
And we recall, with a gleaming stab of sadness,
Vaguely and incoherently, some dream
Of a world we came from, a world of sun-blue hills . . .
A black wood whispers around us, green eyes gleam;
Someone cries in the forest, and someone kills.
We flow to the east, to the white-lined shivering sea;
We reach to the west, where the whirling sun went down;
We close our eyes to music in bright cafes.
We diverge from clamorous streets to streets that are silent.
We loaf where the wind-spilled fountain plays.
And, growing tired, we turn aside at last,
Remember our secret selves, seek out our towers,
Lay weary hands on the banisters, and climb;
Climbing, each, to his little four-square dream
Of love or lust or beauty or death or crime.
Down the center of the peninsular state, the tropical climate briefly withholds its sauna so a few exhausted leaves of august trees may die in their golden glory. Yet the fanfare is ignored amid the ravenous, eternal green, impatient heat, marauding winds—the energy of youth and growth and destruction.
I am visiting once more Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, a novel narrated by the fictional 92-year-old Marian Leatherby who, early in the novel oft quotes her friend Carmella: “One can never trust people under seventy and over seventy.” There are early opinions of antimacassars, a description of collecting and spinning cat hair for a sweater, and an expression of love for her crone beard which she finds rather “gallant” though she notes the “more conventional” would find it “repulsive.” And of course, there is the the hearing trumpet, a gift from her friend Carmella. It is encrusted with silver and mother-of-pearl and shaped like a buffalo’s horn. The instrument will empower her hearing to bionic proportions, apparently.
Find me a narrative or a comedian that will make me laugh, even in tough times, and I will be forever hooked. Leonora Carrington was a British-born surrealist artist and writer who lived in Mexico City most of her adult life, beginning in the 1940s. I used to have an art book (Surreal Friends) with her work included, along with two other surrealist artists in exile in Mexico in the 40s—Remedios Varo and Kati Horna. I was needing cash and had to sell a couple of art books, and alas, this tome was able to fetch me more than any other. But it was a beautiful book.
Even more precious to me is Carrington’s beloved novel from the publisher Exact Change The Hearing Trumpet which, if memory serves, was recommended me by my first writing teacher and friend over twenty years ago. The narrator turns the world upside down, shakes down its pockets, and admires the paper clip and the dime and the bunched up lint that falls out. It is subversive in that it refuses standard issue readerly expectations and novelistic conventions; it subverts capitalistic, materialistic values; it questions normative views so often adopted even in art and literature, but especially in a consumer society.
It delights: You think you know what this character is about and then, in the next sentence, you have no idea. She defies your expectation, and in fact, any preconceived expectation at all. Despite what judgements our world and our literature would commonly impose on such “characters,” Carrington constantly offers up a world that is more exciting, more imaginative, more full of possibility and less limited, less limiting.
I hope to successfully revise and find a home for a story of a woman who has a rich inner life as well as an active and rich imaginative life though she is trapped by the ravages of age. She can’t even speak, but she travels in memory, interacts with a ghost friend, imaginatively reinterprets a relative as a fairy tale character. I was perhaps remembering some of Carrington when I wrote the story, though I was also remembering a story by Lars Gustafsson, and likely stories by my first writing teacher as well as writers such as Janet Frame.
No matter what is happening in real time, we can live and create in an alternate reality, perhaps one that causes us to examine ourselves, what we value, who we value. A subversive vision can be mild and couched in humor but it upends the world.
A cancer patient’s family moves away while he’s in treatment. Afraid and lonely, he realizes he may need a church who will burry him. After joining a church, he learns his way into a plot is to tithe but all disposable income is owed the hospital.
Terramae makes peanut butter chocolate frogs for trick or treaters, but her boyfriend, a chef, uses them for a mole. She yells at him and he says “I wish you would just smoke one big doobie.” She makes a huge batch of frog edibles for his staff. Everyone gets fired.
There is a light in the world for a little Prince and we, the children who have died at the hands of our caretakers, see it at night from where we reside. We are the Realm of the Comforters. We are a ragged crew, deformed, still, from our injuries but beauty in the afterlife is not the beauty that is prized in life. We wear our raggedness like battle scars. It grants us a certain power: The power to empathize, the impetus to act, the motivation to bring justice to children on earth.
Baby Prince was drowned by his very own father. A distraught mother and an angel detective helped solve the crime and and put the father away, but of course, this was not enough to save the child. The dear one came into our world choking and screaming, for children who have been killed at the hands of those who are tasked to love them are in a certain kind of confused state. Our Book of Souls states it is natural for a child to love a caretaker beyond all reason for love is the first rule. And yet, confusion and anger exist in that love and serve to render the child inconsolable.
We found the child in his crib sitting up, wailing, though he had already died. In our Book, we are allowed to comfort the newly deceased but only to bring them rest until they are discovered. It was likely no one heard him die for he had been held under water. After this heinous act, his father had placed him in his crib so that he could “discover” him and cash in on an insurance policy.
We suspended ourselves from the ceiling in the nursery, reaching down in unison to the child in the crib to form a small basket nest, a cradle for rocking, a place over his bed. We sung of babies finding sleep in trees in leaves with birds chirping, a place to safely rock and dream. Gradually, he was comforted, and slept, and we slipped him onto his blanket. The next few nights, a beam of light followed him from his room to the hospital and to his little grave, and at night we visited the grave until he joined us in our Realm, to be mothered and comforted, to play among us, to be our little Prince.
A fit and successful man, Ryan loves his mom, but feels sorry for her too, in the way that only newly minted adults will sometimes feel sorry their older relatives, particularly those closest to them, well ok, admittedly, in the way newly minted adults will sometimes feel sorry for their mothers. It has occurred to him that had his parents stayed together, the burden of thinking so much about his mother could have been displaced, since it would have been largely the responsibility of his father. Now he felt the weight. He had rebelled against taking this on in high school, but gradually assumed the mantel as the years progressed.
When he visits his mother, Ryan has a protocol for keeping track of her. Inevitably, her preparation of an elaborate meal helps him create ruses to slip off into her room: He wants to check his weight because he doesn’t keep a scale at home; he wants to look at her pictures because he likes looking at them; he needs to borrow her Bible to look something up. Had Ryan lived in town, his mother would have been suspicious that he went into her room at all, but she was always so happy to see him, she didn’t ask questions.
He knows where she keeps her blood sugar monitor; he checks recent readings and the ninety day history. He syncs the scale he bought her to his phone and tracks her weight; nothing new there which is both good and bad. He checks the notebook beside her bed where she keeps a written record of finances and doctors’ appointments. She is still in trouble financially and physically though her smile and easy manner seems to bely that. This was just her way. He checks her Bible. The tiny piece of paper he inserted at the edge of a page in the New Testament is still in place which means she hadn’t unzipped the cover and read her Bible and likely hadn’t attended church and Bible study. There is a whiskey bottle bedside— not great—though it is still mostly full. The dust level on her dresser is reaching visible though oft used surfaces like her bedside secretary desk is variably dust free.
Sometimes, he had been surprised by notebooks found in her secretary such as a girlhood diary she kept of her travels with her family in Egypt and Israel. The notebook contained hieroglyphics and their translations and notes about Christmas in Israel, but also complaints about his aunt and grandmother, that they huddled together and gossiped on the trip and left her out. His late uncle and grandfather formed the male unit. She complained she didn’t fit into her own family. This had surprised him, though she would never have admitted any of this to his face. She may not have remembered writing this down. Who knows that she didn’t remember this experience or remember sticking this journal into her secretary desk.
One time he had seen his mother, a younger version of his mother, tidying up the bookshelves in the spare bedroom where he slept. He had sensed her presence, and when he opened his eyes, it was confirmed, but he was afraid. He knew she was not the mother that was alive now. His current mother had thinning hair and moved more deliberately, as if she were thinking before deciding to invest in a certain commitment to act. He was afraid for as he observed this newer version of her—which was younger and more carefree–he also heard his older mother in the kitchen, making his dinner. At dinner, he said nothing about this phantom but he had the unsettling sense he didn’t know his mother, that he didn’t know anything about how she lived or what she thought or how she had experienced life, though she still seemed to know a great deal about him, even what he chose to leave unspoken.
It was always a relief to leave his mother’s home and enter into the chaos of his father’s life, one with fewer memories of the past, a new family with a new mother and brother, where life with his father’s former wife was rarely, if ever, spoken of. And then it was even more of a relief to go home to his own town where there was less history and more possibility, where anything could happen, where the horizon expanded out in all directions.
And he was thankful he had yet to see his mother’s younger double here at his new apartment. He prayed for a stay of execution.
In the early days of the circus, the 19th century, there was puritanical disapproval because “entertainments” were considered a sinful waste of time and the outfits that performers wore revealed too much. But the animal menagerie that was set up alongside the performance tent was a shrewd move to recruit an audience among the faithful. That is the setting of this mini-story which reveals a child’s dreams. Dreams, I think, are the lure and effect of the circus. (I realize I’m not writing of Halloween or writing spooky yet with the circus theme. I’ve become intrigued by the research.)
Henry Buckland, a religious man of New England, took his family to see the animal menagerie. But Little Henrietta broke away to glimpse a forbidden scene under the big top: the trapeze. She vowed to be a trapeze artist one day and wear a gorgeous, glittery outfit.
I’ll have to admit, I have a thing for the #LeaveItChallenge on YouTube. Folks leave delectable items well within reach of their dogs and tell them “leave it” then leave the room. (There is a similar challenge for children called #candychallenge.) The camera tracks just how these tortured subjects react to the temptation.
I have recently purchased a book of the earliest versions of the Brothers Grimm folk and fairy tales. Later versions of these tales were sweetened for younger audiences. The earliest forms are more brutal, just like our R-rated movies and and more salacious forms of entertainment. But then there are some funny tales as well, such as Clever Gretel. I won’t ruin it for you, but let’s just say Clever Gretel is a #LeaveItChallenge laugh-riot.
My first grade teacher broke yardsticks over our desks when we colored “wrong.” At her funeral, I wondered if she drooled after her stroke. Since it was open casket, I was terrified she knew my naughty thoughts and was gonna get me.
She had been drooling on her pillow but wasn’t worried until she saw her face: It was twitching. Her brother took her to the ER but the nurse brushed them off: She was too young to have a stroke. Her brother yelled for the doctor and saved her life.
There’s an excellent film on the life of Blaze Foley available for streaming on Amazon with an AMC subscription. I think it may be available through the end of September.
I only learned of Blaze Foley when I started listening to John Prine (for example, Prine’s cover song of Foley’s “Clay Pigeons”). Foley is a stage name the musician took up because of his admiration for the legendary country musician Red Foley. He also had a close relationship with Townes Van Zandt.
Sibyl Rosen, his wife, wrote about their life together in Living in the Woods in a Tree House. The film covers their life as detailed in the book, their life trying to start Foley’s music career, and the years following their separation.
Ethan Hawke directed and produced the film and just about everyone sings in this movie and does so beautifully – the actors who play Blaze and Van Zandt as well as the actress playing Sybil Rosen. Although he doesn’t sing in this movie, Kris Kristofferson plays a major part as Foley’s father.
After the movie, I watched an interview with Ethan Hawke and Ben Dickey—who played Foley—on KEXP (youtube). There is singing and guitar playing and insights about the movie and the choices made regarding why and how to film.
After miscarrying, I started sleeping in the nursery under the Chagall print—a chicken pulling a carriage for a couple and their baby. While I was asleep one night, Marty left a note: “I love you but I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry.”
Having endured white torture overseas, the journalist returned home. White rooms, chalk floors, soundlessness—the sensory deprivation of his confinement had cast the spell of Lethe. He did not recognize family and yet he panicked at the prospect of being left alone.
Young men of the Ivy League fraternity hosted a “pig roast,” a competition to score high in bedding women. Tie breakers were won using the scale: The man who slept with the heaviest young lady reigned supreme. There was institutional punishment but heartfelt contrition of members was nowhere in evidence.
Tranquil, Jesus-loving hippies, seduced by the revolutionary music of a new religious movement, found themselves engaging in “flirty fishing” for the cause of God. “The Law of Love” superseded “The Law of Moses” said their guru. Years later, former cult members mourn lost innocence. Some don’t survive the shattering.
Coca Cola Vintage by Antonio Marín Segovia, flickr
Florida man, sociopathic genius, Mensa member, chemist, having silenced his neighbors’ barking dogs for good, laces the boisterous family’s soda bottles with thallium. Like the dogs, the mother loses her hair. Her liter are poisoned. The mother dies, but the Florida man is dismayed to find prison especially noisy.
As she ascended the stairs to her bedroom, her mother’s poisonous words followed her: “Just go on up there and write to your God!” And the poison dripped out of her eyes as she bent over the once-private journal, dampening the paper and blurring the lines.
Have you seen the four-part documentary series LuLaRich on Amazon Prime Video? It’s interesting. At first, I wasn’t going to watch it because in general, patterned leggings, a key product of LuLaRoe, aren’t my thing. Lols. (Well, I do confess, I purchased flowered bike shorts from another clothing store recently!) In terms of real time events, when things were starting to go down with this multilevel marketing company, I was in the throes of crises involving divorce and ill health and wasn’t tuned into the world. Furthermore, I realized, having watched the initial few moments of the first episode of this series, I would not have been the demographic target. There was an upper middle class, married woman vibe. That no longer fit who I was.
Though the story in this documentary may seem an illustration of aspirational-white-girls-getting-their-comeuppance, the dynamics of this toxic culture could apply to other situations as well. I don’t want to spoil the series should you decide to watch it. And I’m not a big business person so I have my limitations regarding the subject. What I do want to say and what this drove home for me is that we are all vulnerable to things when we feel wanting in some way—whether it be a lack of funds; a lack of purpose; a lack of self-esteem; etc.
Regarding things we do because we are vulnerable, I joined a support group that had started meeting on Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. They meet frequently—every week—and I’m not big into sharing too much of myself with strangers in frequent meetings. Every now and then, ok, I can be this vulnerable, but well, there is a time to share and a time to keep to oneself. In comparing the first time I met with them with a time that is more recent, I have noticed how much emphasis is now given for members to rely on the group. In fact, sometimes the leader made exclusive claims: True support can be found only in the group. Not all statements were as bold, but I sensed a marked difference. I could have been misinterpreting what I was hearing, but I think it equally possible this is a major red flag.
We are all vulnerable, especially right now. I think it is worth listening to the small voice inside, or training ourselves to do this. We may sometimes override this voice, the very embodiment of our intuition, because we are desperate for whatever is being promised by someone else. But how do we know we won’t get trapped by something that could harm us? Everyone is vulnerable to this kind of a trap. It only takes a certain kind of person saying a certain kind of thing during a certain time of need to influence us to take the bait. This certain kind of person can seem to be utterly benevolent, or just radically awesome. We have to test the waters. Sometimes they are grounded and acting ethically. But, in general, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nothing new there. But for me, the puzzle is how to reach out in vulnerability while also maintaining a kind of critical stance.
This blogpost is longer than I intended it to be. However, to summarize, I really do like LuLaRich and hope you will watch it! And it did make me think that we are now more vulnerable than ever. And though not everyone who misleads people is aiming for their destruction, the process of leading can do a psychological number on the person in charge unless they’re well grounded and make active use of accountability structures.
No matter where you land politically or by any other measure, there is a small voice inside. Listen. It may tell you it’s time to go rogue.
Here’s another bluegrass favorite that’s come to have so much resonance. I hope to learn more about Ola Belle Reed. This was co-written with Dave Reed, her son. It’s in a go-to playlist on Spotify. Good thoughts to you this Saturday. I’ll put another beauty below. — Margaret
When you feel alone in your illness, let your strength demonstrate your dignity, let the sun crown you sister and brother, let the moon guide you as your mother and father. And if it is your turn to lie down, let the gentle earth receive you in her arms.
On a work break, he slipped his hand under her blouse to roughly fondle her pitted breast. She was on her way to a radiation appointment. Men seemed attracted to her damage but her passion was reserved for photons. She slapped his hand away. Imbécile!
This reminds me of summers in North Carolina. We would go to a square dance where this song was popular. This was a dance, but not a square dance. It was a couples’ dance. I never learned it and guy partners who knew it were very few. A couple our age always danced to this, flying all over the barn. They were amazing. I am quite fond of this old Red Foley song. Every now and then, I just have to hear it. There is no substitute. Happy hump day.
Whenever she heard certain songs, thoughts of a former boyfriend reached inside and twisted her insides. It had taken time to see his lack of interest, but they had both loved rock and roll. Did she really want to exorcise his ghost? She wasn’t sure.
I begin today this year’s fall-fifty-word-challenge. Some of these small pieces may be kitschy; some may be tongue-in-cheek; and some may not have as much to do with Halloween as with the darker aspects of life in general. I confess I wrote this one sans prompt. I intend to post some prompts for those interested in participating.—Margaret
Sitting on the toilet lid, she slumps against the bathroom wall, her eyes fixed on the shower curtain, the spoon fallen to the floor, blood trickling down her arm.
They found her blue-lipped. Her sister said it was China Girl, come to take her from the pain.
In this week leading into Labor Day weekend, our nation and my state is literally wracked with illness and death; Louisiana has been ripped apart by a hurricane; there is fear and uncertainty in Afghanistan and mourning for lives lost. Furthermore, there are school districts who will be financially punished for trying to keep children safe from a deadly virus and there are many people facing eviction notices. Last year, the inception of the pandemic was only preamble.
This morning, it was in an addled frame of mind that I opened my closet door to see a small open bin on the floor, something from my previous move I have been gradually sorting through. There on the top, I noticed a collection of pictures which were scattered face down. On the backs of the pictures, there were names and dates written in cursive in an unknown hand. I turned them over to see some glimpse of an almost forgotten history, a record someone else kept for interested parties. I don’t remember who took the pictures of me because I was a baby, but there I was supposedly and playing with a playmate I would never see again. There were also pictures of my biological mother as a child and and also as a young woman. There was a picture of my biological grandmother, a few of my grandfather, two of my half-brother. I hadn’t expected to see these pictures this morning. Oddly, I felt nothing. But years ago, when I first saw them, I felt a great deal. It was at that moment of being presented with them that I learned things that were hard to know. For years, I kept the pictures tucked away in a bookshelf in a manilla envelop, away from view as if they held an electric charge. But moving and disruption has a way of discombobulating everything, and there we are, our private things lying about like a tossed salad.
Watching the film Horse Girl this afternoon, I was drawn into a deep grief, perhaps primed by the pictures of my biological mother in various stages of her life. And there was something so disturbingly recognizable about the film’s main character and her story, something so recognizable in her foibles and derailing mind, her struggle with a mental illness passed down by her grandmother and mother. The major existential question she asks is: How much of their illness is also mine?
I have also been in a grieving process since the onset of the pandemic for I have begun to lose my adopted mother to dementia. It brings home more starkly than ever that sense that when everything is stripped away, we stand naked and alone.
I will not get into more detail about the film and I won’t go into my own history here, though I have done so elsewhere, having spent years keeping it to myself. But for now, I’ll just leave it at this: I could relate to so much material that was in this film. I was riveted. It broke my heart. It is worth your time if you care to explore.
Prefatory note by yours truly:I wanted to share this fascinating post. Several years ago, at the Florida Film Festival, I saw the film I Dream in Another Language. a dramatic and beautiful film exploring the stakes of the death of an indigenous language in Mexico. Though the film explores sometimes mystical concepts, it also explores an intriguing line of thought: When a language dies, whole realms of experience and culture die with it. If you are interested in this concept, I invite you to watch the film and read the reviews to start your exploration. And I hope you will follow the link to this website to read about this linguist’s inspiration and work in Southern Italy.
Written by Dyami Millarson This picture was taken during my last visit to Southern Italy, I played football outside like some of the locals. Whilst I was there, I had taken the opportunity to continue my Molesian fieldwork. Profoundly inspired as a teenager by David Crystal’s Language Death, David K. Harrison’s When Languages Die, Daniel […]
It is almost September! Which means it is almost October! Which means it’s close to Halloween!
I was revising some posts this morning, and particularly the fifty-word fiction pieces I wrote for last year’s Inktober. A few years ago, I started following someone for this little literary spooky spree, writing a delicious bite-size story each day of October. But for a couple of years, I have blazed my own trick-or-treat trail, creating my own prompts. And last year, I wrote several posts laying out my thoughts about writing fun size.
I plan a return to Inktober excitement this year. And I may start as early as September. October being what it may be for me this year, I don’t want to miss an opportunity to craft gloomy confections. If you want to join me, I hope to post prompts soon, some of which may be repeats, but which I enjoyed, ergo: Favorite prompts, round two!
Prime the pump with scary thoughts while I put a cauldron over the fire.