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Writer of fiction that reflects the light of Jesus. Sometimes the grit mixes with beauty to make up a picture of this life. That's where my fiction lives.

Monday, January 24, 2011

In My Dreams (For #3 assignment for The Writers Club)

In my dreams I wear fabulous shoes.  Impossibly tall, ridiculously spiked stilettos.  Sparkling, shining, red, green, purple shoes.  Somehow, in this "La-La Land of Shoe-tastic Living" I know exactly which shoes go with which outfit.  And those clothes, sister, I tell you they are gorgeous.

In my dreams my hair is long and blonde and smooth.  It flows like a cape behind me as I run...yes, in my dreams I'm a runner.  I don't choke to pay a hundred dollars for a trim.  That much money isn't an issue for me.  But that, of course, is only in my dreams.

In my dreams I live in Paris or Venice or Rome.  And I speak the language beautifully.  I have friends dying to spend time with me, men desiring to hold me.  I paint or write or am the subject of paintings or odes.  All my former classmates hate me out of envy.  They regret all those awful names they called me.

In my dreams I'm happy.  In my dreams I'm free and easy; no worries, no troubles.  In my dreams life is exactly perfect.

But.

Oh, but.  But that is not true life.

In my real life I wear ugly shoes.  A size too small.  I bought them at the Goodwill for $4.29.  They were the only ones on the display that weren't falling apart.  They hurt my feet, but that's better than frozen toes hitting the hard pavement.  In real life my hair is mousy, stringy, smelly.  It's difficult to find time to wash my hair let alone pay someone who can cut it nicely.  In real life I live in a basement level apartment in the bad part of town.  It isn't lovely or exotic or even safe.  I work at the Wal-Mart just to get formula to feed my baby.  There's no man here to take care of us, let alone hold me or desire me.

In my real life I'm sad.  In my real life I'm stuck and depressed; nothing but worries and troubles.  In my real life I have no idea what perfection even is.

My real life is cold.

I get up early, so very early.  Oh, it hurts to awake in this under heated apartment.  Frost forms on the inside of the windows.  The chilled floor shocks me into being alert.  I put on the uniform I've worn for the past three days, my too small shoes and my jean jacket.  I walk to the bus stop and smoke while I wait.

Nothing fabulous here.

The 20 minute bus ride bumps me along to Savings Mart.  I'll stand behind that courtesy desk for twelve hours.  I'll take the complaints. I'll take the insults.  I'll take the yelling of customers who are upset about rejected returns of tshirts with yellow armpit stains.  I'll take it all.  And I'll smile at them because I know something that they don't.  I know about my dream life.

"Whadya mean I gotta have a receipt?"  Screams a little, angry woman.

She doesn't know about the fabulous shoes.

"I ain't goin' nowheres till you get your manager. Stupid."  An extra large, angry woman.

She doesn't see the long locks of blonde beneath the stringy mop of hair.

"You're gonna have to work an extra hour."  The manager with the clipboard.  "It's off the clock."

He has no idea the friends that await me.

The shoes, the hair, the friends I realize aren't real.  But pretending gets me through the day.  I pretend that I'm undercover to reveal how "the other half" live.

After an exhaustingly long day I punch out, ride the bus back to my neighborhood, let myself into my apartment and sit on the floor.  Is it colder in here than outside?  It sure feels like it.  I tighten the rolled up towels around the windows.  There's frost on the inside of the glass.  I trace my name on the ice with a fingertip.

"Bobbi Sue" it reads.  I wipe it off and write another name.

"Scarlet."

Scarlet of the shoes and hair and friends.  Scarlet the one I long to be.  Scarlet the brave, lovely, desired.

I leave the name on the glass and walk to my bedroom.  There on the wall are taped pictures of the fabulous shoes, beautiful clothes, smiling models that I wish were my friends.  On the dresser is a box of blonde hair-dye.  The cheapest I could buy.  I rub the dust off the top with my shirt.  I've had this box for months, but never the courage to use the dye.

I sit on the edge of my bed, looking at the blonde model on the box.  She smiles with her perfectly red lips, showing off perfectly white teeth.  Her eyes say to me "I have no problems!  I'm beautiful! What could be wrong?"

"You lie."  The words formed from my lips before I understood them.  "You are flawed and broken and sad too.  Everyone is.  You feel it all.  And you're cold too.  Just like me."

I realize that all the fabulous things won't make my life better.  I tear down the magazine clippings from the wall.  I take the box of hair-dye.  I walk to the bathroom.

Looking back at me in the mirror is a woman.  Bobbi Sue written on her name tag reflected backwards.

Bobbi Sue the Savings Mart service desk girl.  Bobbi Sue the lonely.  Bobbi Sue the frightened and cold and empty.

Bobbi Sue with the hazel eyes.  Bobbi Sue with the scar above her eyebrow.  Bobbi Sue the human with possibilities and abilities.

Bobbi Sue not Scarlet.  Me not someone who isn't real.  Me with issues, yes.  But they are mine.  Me, realizing that all the Scarlets of the world have it just as hard as me.  And I have it just as good as them.

I feel a bud of warmth take place in my heart.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Conclusion. (it's a little rough...)

Most mornings Joe woke up, disgusted by what happened to his life.  He adjusted his cold, sore body from flat on the cot to sitting.  These days he didn't even bother taking off his coat and boots before sleeping.  It was too cold in the garage for undressing.

With his teeth he pulled at his gloves, pulling his hand into the frigid air.  He scratched at his rust colored beard as he opened wide for a yawn.  He felt the cold stab into the nerve of a tooth.  He wondered how much longer before he lost that tooth.  Maybe he would get that job in Texas.  Maybe it would have insurance.  Maybe he'd be able to save up enough for dentures to fill in where his now vacated teeth once were.

Reaching into his backpack he pulled out a large, well used Bible.

The poor will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek the LORD will praise Him --
May your hearts live forever.


From within the pages of the Scriptures fell a picture.  Cracked and faded, the image of his wife smiling, eyes full of love for him.  When she loved him.  It seemed like so long ago since she held his hand or flashed affection through her eyes.  So long ago.

"It's over."  Her voice announced into his head, reverberating off the memories of all that was good in their lives. "It's over."  Tainting the hues of joy.  "It's over."  Breaking the hope of their vows.  "It's over.  And there's no discussion."

He'd moved out.  Rented an apartment.  Kept paying on the house, the cars, the credit cards.  He threw his life into work, trying to busy his mind to blot out "It's over."

"There's someone else."  She'd told him over the phone.  "He's living here at the house.  Don't come over."

It was the only time he was glad they'd never had kids.  It would have been the worst on them.

His bank account was emptied.  A couple thousand dollars missing.  The bank showed him his wife's signature.  The credit cards were over charged.  Creditors called his apartment, his cell phone, his work.

"Where's our money?"  They'd ask.

"I don't know."  Was his only answer.

"Joe, come into my office."  His boss beckoned one afternoon, just before quitting time.  "We're gonna have to let you go.  I'm sorry.  It's over."

No job.  No money.  No family.  Only God.  And these days He'd been quieter than Joe would have liked.

He moved out of his apartment and into a tent.  The hot, humid evenings were best under the open sky than anywhere else Joe could think of.  There were a bunch of them living in an abandoned lot behind the park.  Either the police didn't know or didn't care that they were back there.  They kept things clean and behaved well.

But then the chill set in.  The rescue mission was full most nights.  Desperation set in.  And then the snow.  He had to do something.  But all he had was $2.26 in his pocket.

"Homeless: Please Help." He wrote on a cardboard box with a marker he borrowed from the attendant at the gas station.

Homeless.  This man, once loved and respected and valued, now homeless.  He didn't want this word to declare who he was or who he was becoming.  But the hunger in his belly reminded him that the sign spoke true.  He was, indeed, without a home and in need.

"It's over."

His feet moved reluctantly to a spot under a tree.  It was by a busy access road that lead to a grocery store, fast food joint and gas station.  He felt the remnants of pride and dignity trickle down his throat, resting in the pit of his gut.  He would stand there and hold his sign.

"What makes you think you're better than anybody else?"  He asked himself.

He held the sign.  At first he kept it inches from his body as if to say "This isn't really me".  Then the first cars passed.  A woman in a fancy car glared at him as she went by.  A family in a van drove near, pretending not to see him.  A little girl in another car pointed, her mother pushed her hand down.

A large, ancient vehicle rattled next to him.  A man passed a few dollars through the cracked window.

"Here you go, brother."  The man said.  "We poor gotta stick together."

"My name is Joe."  Was all he could mutter through his tight throat.

"Hey there, Joe.  I'm Ed."  The man smiled.  "God bless you, brother Joe."

"I'm a Christian man.  I've never had to do this before.  It's just...it's just..."

"Joe."  The man's voice calmed him.  "You don't gotta say a word.  I get it, brother."

The rattling car jolted away.

Joe met many people that day and the next and the next.  Some understood, waited to listen to his story.  They shared a cup of coffee, a bag of groceries, a few dollars.  He talked to them about Jesus.  Many times he was hearing their sad stories.

Many people drove past.  That didn't bother Joe.  What hurt were the snarls, the people who rolled down their windows to bark at him.  Harsh words that thudded against his soul.  The worst one was on the third day.

Snowflakes clustered together on that day.  The roads were slick from the slush and ice hidden beneath.  Joe was thankful the the steaming coffee in his hand as he sipped the warmth into his body.  He closed his eyes, relishing the rich aroma, thanking God for His mercies.

Something cold splashed into his face followed by another and another. Sloppy snowballs were hitting him from several sides.  One with a chunk of ice inside tipped the coffee cup and splashed the liquid on Joe's beard and coat.

"Get a job!"  A boy yelled, adding sharp words in his cracking voice.

Joe looked at the boy, hurt speaking through his eyes.

Another boy hurled a snowball at his head.  Yet another chucked one at his back. And their words shredded his emotions.

Joe stood a good foot taller than the boys, yet he felt powerless against them.  He just stood and took this punishment.  "Jesus suffered more."  He reminded himself.  "I can take this."

The snowballs were becoming harder as the boys added more ice.  Then they just threw ice chunks.  One thudded against his face.  Warm blood rushed to the cut and spilled on his cheek.

"Hey!"  A voice called out.  "You leave him alone!"

It was a voice of confidence and authority.  Joe tried to see who it was, but his eyes were clouded by tears and slushy snow.

"Whatever, lady." One boy snorted.  "This isn't any of your business."

"Of course it is."  She answered.  "Just sit on the curb."

"Why should we?"  Another boy.

"Because I'm calling the police."

"Right."  The first boy.  "Like we're really going to sit and wait for the cops."

"They'd arrest this slob for panhandling."  A different boy.

"Slob?"  The woman's voice didn't waver.  "Do you really think that by calling him a 'slob' you can give yourself permission to mistreat him?"

"Whatever."  The speaker's voice cracked.

"He is a human being."  Her voice sounded like singing.  "Look at him.  Look at his eyes.  He is real.  He was made in God's image just like you."

There was a pause.  "What's your name?"  She asked.

"My name's Joe."

They sat on the curb. The woman sent one of the boys into the fast food restaurant to get a coffee and food for Joe.  The boys listened to Joe's story.  Then they listened to Jesus' story and, although they already knew it, heard with different ears.  After a little while the boys went back to the classes they were skipping.  The woman handed Joe some money and began to walk away.

"What's your name?"  Joe asked after her.

"Bea."  She answered with a meek voice.  Not the authority nor confidence of earlier.

"Thank you, Bea."  He put one hand into the air in a still wave.  "God bless you."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Just a little story...not finished yet!

Fat snowflakes floated from the sky, whipping around at the will of the wind.  Tree limbs, barren of life, wore blankets of white on their elegantly curved arms.  It was the kind of day that sent Robert Frost into fits of poetry, Jack London to dreaming of husky dogs and snowshoes.

Bea navigated her compact car through the streets.  Beneath her gloves were knuckles as gleaming as the snow. Large SUV's sped past her, throwing globs of snow onto her tiny windshield.

"Mind the road."  Her mother reassured.  "Don't worry about those big trucks."

"I know, Mother.  Thank you."  Bea answered.

It little mattered to her mother that Bea was a woman with a college degree, a job and an apartment all her own. Her mother could not seem to stop, well, mothering her.

"Remember, those big trucks are the first to go in the ditches."  Her mother added with a humph.  "Serves them right."

"That isn't kind."  Bea answered, sheepish.

"Nothing in the Bible ever told me I had to be kind."

"Actually, mother..."

"What's that?"  Her voice was sharp, daring Bea to challenge her.

Pause.  Air thick with tension.  Bea sniffed.

"Which do you want to do first; your groceries or your hair?"

"What do you think?  If I get the groceries first everything will go bad in the trunk."

"Okay, then.  We'll go to the beauty shop first."

Dark paneled walls lined with women, heads under driers and reading tabloids.

Bea dreaded these weekly visits to "Lovely Lady Beauty Shop".  The women near harassed her each Saturday.

"Bea, you found yourself a husband yet?"

"I have a nephew in Ann Arbor who's studying to be a doctor."

"At your age I'd had all 8 of my kids."

"You'd better get a move on, Bea.  You're eggs are all gonna dry up."

And on and on.

Bea just sat in the waiting area, hands folded in her lap, head nodding.

"Ramona, you need to talk to her about getting married."  One woman said, too loud because of the whirring bowl atop her head.

"Don't I know it."  Bea's mother said, hair being tugged into rollers.  "But do you think the girl listens to me?  No.  She isn't interested in seeing a man right now."

The women continued to squawk as Bea drifted in her mind.  She looked out the window.  Across the street was the grocery store, a McDonald's and a gas station.  A dark figure stood under a tree between the store and the gas station.  She stood, moving toward the window.  The person under the tree was a man and  he was holding a sign made of cardboard.

"Oh, that Joe."  Ceci said.  Ceci owned the beauty shop for over thirty years.  "That Joe been sittin' there with that sign for a couple days.  I seen him there beggin' money off the folks gone in to get a burger."

"Anybody tell him to get a job?"  Bea's mother asked, snorting in righteousness.  "Lazy reaps nothin' but hardship."

"Maybe he's not lazy."  Bea said, louder than she expected.  Harsher than she intended.  "Maybe he's just out of a job."

"Then why don't he go into that McDonald's and get a job flippin' burgers or something?"  Her mother was louder and harsher than Bea.  "You keep talkin' like that, girl and people will think I raised a Communist."

Bea ignored her mother.  "Ceci, are people giving him money?"

"Oh, yes!  Such a fools.  They bring him sandwiches and coffee and bags of groceries."  Ceci clucked. "I tell ya he's got quite a racket going.  I bet he sells all them bags of food to buy drugs."

"I'm going to go ask him."  Bea picked her coat up off the chair.  "I bet he doesn't."

"Don't you go out there.  He's likely to mug you."  Her mother's eyes were wide, her lips set fiercely.  A look Bea crumbled to so many times before.  "He might rape you.  You just sit down and do what I say."

"Why, mother?"  Bea turned, eyes soft and sad.  "Why are you so mean?"

"Because I been burned by people like that before."

"How?"

"I don't want to talk about it."  The woman's eyes narrowed, her mouth pursed.  "Be a good girl and sit down."

"No."  Bea felt a surge of power at the word.  "No, mother.  I'm going to see if I can help the man."

The bell on the beauty shop door clanged as Bea let it slam behind her.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Story Starter #2 (for a writers club)

The man in the Winnebago is staring wildly.  A Cadillac is wedge precariously under the nose of his monstrous vehicle.  Smoke is pouring out of both hoods, fluid leaking from underneath.  The woman in the Caddy is sobbing, her nose streaming blood onto her cashmere sweater.  A siren howls closer and closer.

I walk by this mess, no time to stop.  I was due at work two hours ago, more or less.  I suppose if I stop I'd at least have an excuse for my boss.  If I just got a little blood on my jacket that would be enough to convince him. But it's leather and I really don't care if I get fired.

Two more blocks and I'll be there, at the office.  I'm almost taken aback by the enormity of steel and brick towering over me.  The street is lined by these ancient buildings.  Here no trees offer shade, no glass a soft path, only hard, cold materials.  I hate this city.

I slap the button to make the handicapped accessible door slowly easy its way open.

"Hey, Chief."  The security guard says, "You got your badge?"

"It's at home."  I tell him.

"What's your name?"

"Uh, not Chief."

"What's your name?"  With more force.

I tell him my name.  He checks his list.

We do this everyday.  It's some sick kind of ritual.  I have my badge in my pocket.  I just like messing with the guy.  Might as well work for his paycheck.

"Go on through the metal detector."

"Really?"  I whine.  "We gotta do this today.  I'm a little late."

He cusses me out.  I walk through the gateway of detection.  It beeps frantically.  This too is a ritual.  I remove my keys, my lighter, my badge and place them in a basket.  I walk through again.  No beep.

The guard hands me my belongs and notices my pass.  He lets out a grunt and tells me to do something that my mother warned me would make me blind.  I laugh.

He goes back to reading his dirty magazine.

"Elevator's busted, Chief."  He turns the page.

My feet slowly climb the stairs.

"No reason to rush."  I think aloud.

The woman five steps ahead of me turns to me, "Excuse me?"

"You're excused."  I answer.

She takes the steps a little faster.

I walk through my office, past the receptionist and into my cubical.  My square of doom.  A note is taped to my computer screen.

"Could we please met when you get in?"  Black Sharpie letters on pale yellow Post It.

I remove it and toss it in the trash.  My computer is already on and Facebook is up.  I "poke" a few friends.  Check up on what happened in the last 15 minutes.

Leeza is eating cookies.

Brian is glad that the sun is shining.

Ramona is angry.  (as always)

The phone on my desk buzzes.

"Jello?"  I say into the receiver.

"Hi!"  My boss.

"I'm sorry.  Who is this?"

"Um, Thomas.  Your boss."  His voice lowers to a whimper.  "Could you please come to my office?"

"Yeah.  Just let me update my status.  Cool?"

"Sure."

Everything about my boss' office is small.  Small door, small windows, small boss.  He hates it.  Complains about it everyday.  I sit in one of the under-sized chairs in front of his tiny, doll house desk.

"Hey."  He's trying to be reassuring.  "What's going on?"

"Well...Leeza's eating cookies."

"Right."  He didn't listen to my answer.  "So, I'm getting this strange idea that you aren't loving your job."

"Should I love my job?"

"Yes.  I think you should."

"Oh.  Well, this is awkward."

"I know."

Sarcasm meant nothing to this wee man.

"Listen,"  He climbed up on his desk, not without a great deal of umph. His eyes look directly into mine.  He was concerned.   "You might be surprised to know that you're several hours late."

"Nope.  That doesn't surprise me at all."  My voice was as bland as a rice cake.

"So, why is it that you're so late?"

"Oh.  That.  Well I guess I just got busy with stuff at home."

"Are things at home bad?"  He crossed his arms and raised his eyebrows in worry.  "Are you going through relationship troubles?"

"I guess you could call it that."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Sure."  I answered, inserting enthusiasm.

"Go ahead."

"I think I changed my mind."  I scratched my head.  "I think you should just fire me."

"No.  Please."  He begged, tears collecting in the corners of his eyes.

"You see kids like me coming in here all the time.  You had to have known this would never work out."

"I know."  He weeps.  "I just had such big dreams."

"You know I'm not going to amount to anything in the business world with my lack of respect for authority."

"It's true."

"I'll just pack up my things and leave.  I'll turn in my badge to the security guard.  Perhaps you should have someone escort me out of the building."

The receptionist met me outside the boss' office with a box.  She's about as old as my grandma and about as mean as a shark.

"You really messed up, you know."  She barks at me and walks away.

If she had been my boss I would have worked harder, been on time.

I place the box on the desk.  I have nothing personal here; no pictures of friends or pets to take home.  I place my badge on the rolling chair and walk myself down the stairs.

The guard has his nose in that magazine still.

"You get canned?"  He asks without looking up.

"No.  The company's paying an all expense trip to New Zealand to romp with the Hobits."

"Punk."  He puts the magazine face down on his desk.  "I gotta get your badge."

"It's at home.  I'll mail it to you."

He calls me a few unsavory names.

"I'm going to miss your ever sweet disposition."  I say, walking backwards, slapping the handicapped button again.

The air outside is fresh.  The sun is, indeed, making me glad.  My walk feels like a glide across the pavement.

The Winnebago is jacked onto a tow truck.  The Cadillac is already gone.  The man is getting into a taxi, the wild look still in his eyes.