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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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

After the Break (short story)

We sat in his junky red car drinking slushies. It was still so hot outside even though it had turned to fall and all the leaves were blazing orange. We were parked outside my apartment, the apartment that would be ours after our wedding in four months and six days. He flipped off the radio and turned his body toward me.

"I think we should see other people," he said. "It's over."

I blinked. A couple times. My body went numb.

"You had to have known this was coming," he said. "I don't love you."

"But, we have a date. A church. My dress," I said. "I'm not letting you go."

"There's someone else. You can keep the ring. I don't care. Sell it or throw it away. Just don't wear it anymore."

I spilled the slushie on my leg. Melty purple syrup and water flowed on my jeans. He reached over to catch the cup or brush off the mess.

"Don't touch me!" I screamed. "Just don't ever touch me again!"

I swatted at him, smacking sounds from my hands on his face and arms.

"I gave you everything! And now...now you can just push me away?" My voice was low and quavering.

"Just get out of the car," he said. Cold, hard, iron. "Get out."

---

"Samantha, you have to get out of bed," my mom said over the phone. "Life goes on, honey."

"But I don't want it to."

"You have to let it." Her sigh was loud enough to hear through the receiver. "It's been two weeks. It's time to start over."

"That's it, huh? Just start over?"

"Yup. That's life, Sam."

---

Tearing up his pictures gave me a strange feeling of victory. Burning them was even better.

---

I wept like crazy. Regret set in over destroying the pictures. So much of my life reduced to a cup full of ashes in my grill.

---

He called me. Asked me if I could get lunch with him.

"To talk."

"No," I said.

"What? You hate me now?"

"Yeah."

"Don't your remember anything good from us? We had some good days."

"I can't think of a single thing that was good."

"Not even one?"

"No."

I hung up. That felt good.

---

He always hated tattoos. Said they looked "trashy".

I went with a few friends and got a strawberry on my ankle. It was the only one I could afford.

It was the stupidest thing ever. But it was a mark of my freedom.

---

Danced at my friend's wedding. He was there with a pretty girl on his arm.

I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the reception.

---

 "Hey, Sam," him on my voice mail. "I'm sorry I was such a jerk to you. I kind of miss you. Man, we had some great times. Call me."

My heart ached in different ways. I never thought that could happen. I still loved him. I was starting to hate him.

---

"Do you love her?" I asked. He slumped in the booth across from me. I finally agreed to meet him.

"I don't know." He wore a hat. He never wore those when we were together. He was also wearing cologne. Another new thing for him. "Maybe I do."

"I can't believe you."

"What?"

"One minute you miss me, the next you love her. Make up your mind."

"I don't miss you."

"But on the phone..."

"Don't go making little accusations."

"I'm not."

"It's none of your business."

"You're right."

We sat. It was so quiet. Our untouched meals went cold we sat there so long.

"I got a tattoo," I said.

"That's so stupid. You know how I feel about those."

"Well, it doesn't matter anymore does it?"

Walking out of that restaurant, I felt strong. I walked away from what weighed me down.

I no longer needed him. I no longer cared what he said or how he looked at me or who he was with.

I was free.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Not the end (short story)

Misty walked among the shelves of books. She was overwhelmed. So many different books. The store was huge.

"Can I help you?" asked the cute, skinny girl behind the customer service counter. Her lips smiled, but not her eyes.

"Um. Yes. I'm looking for a book," Misty said.

"Right."

"Well, I guess I don't know which one, exactly."

"Okay. Are you looking for fiction or non-fiction?"

"I guess non-fiction. Something about...well...weight loss."

"Sure." The girl typed something into a computer. "This way."

She led her through the rows, more quickly than Misty could move. She eventually caught up, trying to catch her breath without gasping.

"Here's the weight management books," the girl said. "Do you need anything else?"

"Yeah. A cookie."

The girl laughed, put her hand gently on Misty's shoulder. "You're too funny. Have a nice day."

Misty was alone, trying to figure out which celebrity had the best diet plan. No flour. No sugar. No carbs. No meat. No coffee.

Maybe I'll just have to stop eating all together, she thought.

Her cell phone rang.

"Hello, Heather."

"Hey, Mom. What are you doing?"

"Oh, nothing." She took a book off the shelf. On the cover were the bronzed abs of a young woman. "Hey, what do you think of joining a gym with me?"

"I don't know. It's kind of expensive."

"You're right."

"So, did you and Dad get things figured out?"

"What do you mean?" The book was full of pictures. Women laying on their backs, elbows pointing at knees in a crunch, faces radiant with smiles.

"You guys were fighting all night."

"Oh, honey, it was nothing. You know."

Heather was so quiet on the phone that Misty thought it cut out. "Heather? You still there?"

"Yes." She sniffled. "I'm here."

"Are you crying?"

"Maybe."

"Hon, we'll get it all worked out. I promise."

"I heard him talking about that woman."

"Oh."

"Why would he do that?"

"I don't know."

The women in the book were perfect. Perfect legs, abs, boobs, smiles. Misty was not. Legs striped by purple veins. Stomach slack and full from three pregnancies and years of secret eating. Boobs...well...they needed a whole lot more support than they used to. Her smile. What smile?

"Is he going to lose his job?"

"Yes. I think so."

"Good. I hope he does."

"Heather."

"What?"

"This is going to be harder on him than on me."

"Whatever, Mom."

"Listen, I have to go. I'll bring home some burgers and we'll talk some more."

"Okay."

"I love you, Heather."

"I know."

Misty hung up the phone.

She realized that she'd lost her husband. To another woman. A woman who was 20 years younger. Who was thinner and prettier and sweeter. That woman dressed and put on make up and did her hair so much better than Misty.

"You've really let yourself go," he'd said the night before. "I just can't be attracted to you anymore. Lord knows I've tried, Misty."

"Just tell me what I have to do," she said to him. "I'll do whatever you want."

"Become just like her."

The memory of his words stabbed her heart all over again.

"You know you can't be a pastor anymore if you leave me."

"Don't threaten me. You're always doing that."

"No, I'm not."

He raged at her. Screamed about her flaws, her mistakes in life, her occasional selfish moments. She hadn't cried. She just sat there, in shock.

Then he left.

"Have you found what you needed?" the customer service girl asked. "I could recommend one if you'd like."

"No. But thanks. I think I'm okay."

"Okay." The girl lingered. "Hey, I hope this isn't weird or anything. But, you have the prettiest eyes."

"Oh, thank you." Misty lowered her glance.

"I'm serious. You really do. They're kind eyes."

Misty smiled. Her heart warmed a small bit.

"You have no idea how I needed to hear that."

"Well, I hope you have a nice day."

I won't, Misty thought. But it's not the end of the world.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oh how I love chocolate!

(This is a contribution to The Diaper Diaries for her "Things I Love Thursdays")

Friends, I have an addiction. There are days when it's all I can think about. My skin crawls without it. I start drooling all over my very unfashionable clothes at the mere mention of it. I love...


...chocolate (just in case you had no idea what that picture was...and, in that case, I worry about you). 

Mmm. Just the way it melts on the tongue. How it relaxes me and then hypes me up with all the sugar and caffeine. It has the power to tap into all my dietary weaknesses (especially when there's a salty flavor involved). 

But here's the problem.


This is who picks the cocoa beans that go into most chocolate that goes into the mouths of Americans. But he looks so happy, right? 

I'm sure he's not. This child is a slave. He won't go to school. Won't get paid for his long hours in the fields. Will never even taste the candy that his labor makes possible.

When I heard about this child and the other thousands like him...well...let's say I thought my chocolate eating days were over.

BUT! 

Then there's this...


Green & Blacks is a Fair Trade Federation company. They only use cocoa in their chocolate that has been sourced ethically and responsibly. They, in fact, vastly improve the communities from which the cocoa is harvested (which is, by the way, in the Dominican Republic...which makes my heart even happier). 

But...how does it taste? Is it actually any good.

Oh, sister (or brother...I don't know who's reading this), the flavor is leagues beyond anything you can get at the gas station. 

This is one thing that I love...not just because it is delicious and wonderful...but also because it is a better choice for the world in which we live.

Enjoy!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Compassion (a short story)

I hate doing my grocery shopping at night. Seems that's when the really strange people come out of the corners and wander the store. I never feel quite safe walking around the produce and deli sections. Always have to keep my hand on my purse. You never know what one of those people will do.

"Hey, Mom," my teenage son says to me about five minutes ago. "I need four dozen cupcakes for the school bake sale tomorrow."

And guess who doesn't have nothing in her cupboard to make his cupcakes.

"Make the boy get the stuff," my husband grumbled. "He gotta learn."

"He wouldn't get the right stuff," I answered. "I don't know nothing about baking."

"Suit yourself."

I put on my raincoat and drove the four miles to the super market.

"Mama! Mama!" a little girl is screaming from the cart. Her mother, or at least I think it's her mother, is on the other side of the aisle looking at the canned vegetables.

Somebody's gonna come along and snatch that kid right up and that mother wouldn't even know what happened. Probably wouldn't care neither. Except she wouldn't get her food stamps no more. Leaches on society. Should all have to get a job. Working flipping burgers is better then taking money from the government. Shame on them.

"Mommy!" That little girl's got some lungs on her.

"What?" her mother says. She don't really care what her kid needs.

"Mommy, I'm hungry!"

"I'm getting you something. We'll eat in just a few minutes."

"I want chicken nuggets! Or a taco!"

"We ain't gettin' nothin' like that."

"But I want it!"

That kid starts carrying on like she been slapped across the face. Probably would do her some good. That's the problem with people these days. They don't punish their kids. Just want to be their best friends. A good whipping never hurt nobody.

"We ain't gettin' no junk tonight, April. So shut up about it."

How dare she talk to her little girl like that. I just about tell her off about that one. What kind of mother uses such language? I have half a mind to shake some sense into her.

That mother takes three cans of green beans in her hands. And, I swear, she puts them right into her purse. I kid you not. She looks up at me. She knows I seen her. She rushes over and pushes the cart and the little girl away from me.

I ain't letting that go. No, sir. I take off after them. What right she got to steal them green beans? And right in front of her child. Ain't right at all.

I peek my head around the corner and watch that woman slip a can of tuna into that purse. And she don't stop there. Spam and crackers and a couple apples. I follow her all over that market. She sure does have a big purse.

"Hey, there," I say, pulling aside a woman in a red polo shirt. "You work here?"

"Yup. Can I help you?" she asks.

"Sure can. You see that woman there. The one with the screaming kid?"

"Yes. But, ma'am, I don't feel right telling her to keep the girl quiet. She's just a tired little child. We see it here all the time. They'll leave soon enough."

"No. That ain't the problem."

"Well, then, what is the problem?"

"See that big ol' purse? She been packing it full of food. She's shop lifting."

"Oh, my."

"So, go get her."

"Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate your concern. I'll go talk to the manager."

I go to the bakery. There are all kinds of cupcakes there. Might as well just pick up them. It'll save me lots of time. I get myself a couple doughnuts to eat myself. I done a good turn today. Doughnuts are a good prize for me.

"No! Please!" A screaming voice from the other side of the store. "I'll pay for it. Just let me pay for it!"

"Ma'am, we can't have no one stealin' from us." I'm guessing that's the manager.

"But they'll take April. Put her in a home."

"I'm sorry, lady. But that ain't my problem."

"Here. I'll give you all the money I got in my wallet. It's more'n enough to pay for everything."

"Listen, if you had the money to pay, then why'd you think you should steal this stuff?"

"Cause that's all I got. How am I supposed to pay for rent and food? I ain't got a job."

"Shame on her," I say to the cashier as she scans the code on my cupcakes.

"Happens all the time." The lady at the counter pushes buttons to ring up the doughnuts. "These look yummy."

"Yeah. I got me a weak spot for sweets."

"Don't I know it. I got this gut to prove it." She hands me the bags. "That'll be $17.65."

"I gotta write a check out."

The manager's pulling the shop lifter toward his office. April's walking next to her, tugging on her hand.

"Mama? Where we going? I wanna go home." April's voice is so much smaller now. She's so scared.

"I don't know, baby," her mother weeps. "Just don't be scared. I'll take care of everything."

"But I don't wanna go with no one. I wanna stay with you."

"I know it. I know."

"I'm still hungry, Mama. We ain't had nothin' to eat."

"I know, baby."

"Can't even feed her child." The cashier clucks her tongue. "What kind of monster. Probably spends all her money on drugs."

"Probably." I feel my heart breaking a little. Ain't never felt so bad about doing the right thing before.

I tear the check out of my wallet and hand it to the woman. "You need my license?"

"Naw. You're good." Her drawer slides out and she puts the paper check inside. "Have a good one."

I have to walk past the manager's office to get out to my car. He's in there with the woman and her girl. Both is crying and carrying on. It makes my stomach feel sick. I ain't gonna be able to eat them doughnuts now.

April looks out the door. Her little girl eyes is so red and her mouth is so turned down. I can't stand it no more. I look away.

Them doughnuts ain't a good thing for a little girl to eat for dinner. I tell that to myself. But she ain't got nothin' else to eat. And the police'll come and who knows where they gonna take her.

"Hey, little girl," I call with my gentle voice. "I got something for ya."

She looks up at her mother.

"I'll bring it to you. You stay put."

I walk in and hand her the two doughnuts. She don't smile. I never expected that.

I also never expected how hard I'd be shaking as I walk out to my car.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seven days late (short story of pregnant vengeance)

She walked...no lumbered...no waddled into the coffee shop, her round and extended tummy upsetting the newspapers on the counter.

"I need a double mocha and a blueberry scone," she said, her voice desperate.

"That mocha's decaf, right?" the kid behind the counter asked.

"No." Her voice was sharp. "I want a double freaking mocha. Full strength! Lots of whip! Chop, chop!"

"But don't you think that would be bad," he said, snotty tone behind his words. "I mean, in your condition?"

"And what exactly is my 'condition'?"

"Um, really?" He looked at her stomach. "It's kind of obvious. And I'm not giving a highly caffeinated drink to a pregnant woman. We have plenty of fruit juices."

She reached both of her swollen hands across the counter, taking the young punk by the collar of his annoyingly peach polo shirt. She pulled his skinny, pimply head close to hers.

"Listen, you little idiot, and listen closely. I want that coffee. I have gone forty weeks obsessing over everything I've put in my mouth, terrified that I would damage my little baby. But no more. Oh, no. No more. I haven't had a single cup of coffee, not even a sip of wine. Do you have any idea what that does to a person? I've stayed away from tuna and feta cheese. Don't even get me started about how many times a day I have to pee!"

"I'm sorry, lady..."

"You're sorry? Are you really?"

"Yeah." Gulp. "I really am."

"Then get your saggy pants wearing booty over there and steam that milk!"

"Okay. Thank you."

She released him, rubbed her hand across her belly and whipped her hair around. "Don't forget that blueberry scone."

"I'll be right on that, ma'am." He scampered to create her drink.

"Reina!" a woman from across the shop called. "Is that you?"

Reina swung her pregnant body around, knocking over the plate of cookie samples.

"Oh my goodness!" she squealed. "Leslie!"

The woman hugged. The boy behind the counter peeked over the whipped creamed mocha, marveling in her ability to go from homicidal to bubbly happy all within 5 seconds.

"Ma'am," his voice quivered. "Your mocha and scone."

"Oh, thanks! How much?"

"Don't worry about it. It's on the house."

"How sweet of you!"

"So," Leslie said, putting her hands on her hips, accentuating her thin waist-line. "What's new?"

"Not too much." Reina answered. "Gosh, I haven't seen you since college!"

"I know! I didn't even know you were expecting. How exciting. Who's the father?"

"Eddie Market."

"Eddie. As in, Eddie that I used to date? That Eddie?"

"Yup. This is our first."

"How about that." The smile left Leslie's face. "When's your due date?"

"Oh, last week. I'm a little overdue."

"My goodness, Reina. Shouldn't you be home with your feet up?"

"Nah. I feel fine."

"Well, look at you. All up and going and carrying twins."

"Um, I'm not having twins."

"Are you sure?" Leslie looked directly into Reina's. There was some kind of attitude set in her face. "You're pretty big for just one baby."

"You think so, do you?" Reina put an edge on her voice.

"I do." Leslie challenged. "Isn't your doctor worried that you've gained too much weight?"

"No. She thinks I'm doing just fine."

"Well, I think you should probably lay off the scones." Leslie puckered her lips and cocked her head. "Don't you think?"

Reina's fist connected solidly with Leslie's left eye. She picked up her mocha and scone, stepped over Leslie and found a table.

She sipped the perfect mocha and felt her baby bump around her womb. It made her smile.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Letting Go (a short, short story)

It's this time of year I'm always surprised by the bundles of lilacs that seem to have bloomed overnight. The lavender aroma shocks me with beauty.

They were my sister's favorite flower.

"This is what heaven will smell like," she would say, sitting on the porch of our childhood home. "Close your eyes, Ginny. Just smell the air."

"How do you know?" I'd ask. "You been to heaven?"

"Oh, shut up, you sassafrassy."

"They are pretty, though, Betty. Let's cut some for mama."

We would fill old jelly jars with water and snip lilacs, setting them on the window panes all around the farmhouse. We knew that the bushes would only hold the blooms for a few weeks before they would wilt. Betty couldn't stand to see them wasted.

Years later, after marriages and kids and divorces, Betty moved into the old house with me. Mama and daddy were gone for a long time by then. My kids were all making families of their own. I was glad to have my sister with me.

"Ginny, I'm sick," she told me. "I can't live alone anymore. I need help."

I set up a room just for her, on the main floor and with plenty of sunlight through the windows. I papered the walls with a lilac print, had lavender carpeting put in. It looked just the way I thought she'd like it. I even transplanted a lilac bush right outside so she could look out at it whenever she desired.

She only lived in that room for three months. After she died I kept the room exactly as she'd left it. I didn't even have the heart to move her slippers from the foot of the bed.

Every once in awhile I still go and sit in her room. The bed remains unmade from when the mortician came for her body. I try to pull the sheets off the mattress, so I can wash them. But something prevents me. That rumbled bedding and crushed pillow are all I have left of her.

It's all I have of anyone.

In-home nurses lived with us, around the clock, for the last two months that Betty was here. They fed her, bathed her, looked after her. All I could do was stand and watch. And that last day, it took so long for her to pass.

"It would help her if  you told her it was okay," the nurse told me in the kitchen. "I think she's holding on for you."

"Oh, she wouldn't do that," I answered. "She isn't even sure of what's happening."

"Well, I don't know about that. They say that the hearing's the last thing to go."

"What do I say, then? Go on and die?" The force in my voice startled me. "I can't do that. No. I won't."

And I didn't. I just sat and watched her dying. It took hours, longer than I ever imagined. Then finally, it was over. My body was paralyzed in the chair by the window in her room.

Now I sit in the chair again. Sometimes I'll talk to her. I don't know if she can hear me. I really wish she could.

"Betty, I'm sorry. I should have let you go," I say it out loud. "It was selfish of me. I was just scared."

I look out the window. The lilacs have just started to bloom. I saw the buds a few days ago. The aroma, rich and familiar, follows me through the yard.

"Is it true, Betty?" I ask the empty room. "Does it really smell like that? Because if it does, then you're in a good place. And if that's the smell then I can only imagine how great everything else is."

I stand up, walk across the soft floor. Without meaning to, I kick a slipper with my foot. Something inside me tells me that it's okay.

"When you came here, I thought we'd have more time. I guess I just wasn't ready to be alone again. It wasn't right for me to lose you so early."

Bending over, I pick up both slippers. A stabbing feeling moves through my stomach. It passes and I've survived it.

"But if you're okay, then I need to be happy for you. And I believe that you're better now."

The wind is tossing the lilac blooms ever so slightly on the other side of the window pane. The window moves stubbornly as I push it up and open. I breathe in the fresh air.

"Good-bye, Betty. I'll always miss you. But I'll see you again real soon."

The case slips off the pillow with a smooth movement. It falls in a heap on the floor.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I need your help.

Hello, Blog Friends!

First, I want to thank you for reading my blog. I can't express to you how deeply moved I am that anyone would take the time to read what I've written. It's unbelievable humbling. I appreciate it. I also am so very thankful for those of you who have referred Periwinkle Peacock to others. That encourages me to move forward with this project.

That being said...don't worry, this isn't bad...I need a little advice from you. You get a say in the direction of this blog (for the time being at least). I would like to ask you what you want from me.

No, I can't give you a million dollars.

Sorry, no flashy giveaways.

What I need to know is this -- what do you want me to write?

I've written both fiction and non-fiction, serious and funny (or, I hope that a few were comical...at least the one's I intended to be). I enjoy writing in each of those styles. However, I wonder if switching it up like I have leaves the blog unfocused.

So, what do you think?

All fiction?

All creative non-fiction?

A little bit of both?

I'm open to your ideas. I want to hear what you think. I will read your input and make up my mind accordingly.

Thank you again, Dear Reader Friends!

Blessings on you!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day Thoughts at 11:52 pm

I just checked on my kids. They're sleeping peacefully, snuggled up with bears and dolls and cats. The boys are under their soccer quilts and my daughter is under the pretty pink blanket. They are getting so big. Kids just seem to grow up too fast.

Being a mama has proven to be the best blessing in my life. And being able to parent alongside my husband has been beautiful. On this Mother's Day, I feel overwhelmed by the goodness of my life. And I feel encouraged because my family treasures me.

A couple days ago I heard the news that Brooke is dead. Brooke was 33...the same age as me. She was in the grade ahead of me in high school. We were on the JV Volleyball team together. She played "Liesel" and I "Mother Abbess" in "Sound of Music". We sang in choirs together, competed in vocal contests together. I loved her hair, the blonde and extra curly locks. She tried to teach me how to make mine do that to no avail.

We lost touch after she graduated. I guess that's kind of normal. I'd heard about her attempts at fame. I actually saw her appearance on "The Dating Game". Then I started hearing rumors about trouble. Jail time, failed relationships. I didn't know if everything I'd been told was true.

Then I saw her on Facebook. She wrote a few notes to people on their "walls". But I didn't send a friend request. I can't figure out why I didn't. And I feel badly about it. I'm not one to go on and on thinking "I could have made a difference..." I don't know if I really could have. But I feel badly that I didn't extend friendship to her.

And now she's gone. It's the strangest feeling in the world. She's my age. Something isn't as it should have been. I don't know what happened. Probably never will. I probably don't have the right to know. And that's okay. However, it saddens me that her life was so short.

And today I thought about her mom. Her mom must have had the worst Mother's Day she'll likely ever experience. I can't imagine her grief...and I really don't want to. How empty she must have felt today, knowing that one of her precious daughters was gone.

I know her mom loved her. She wanted the best for her daughter. She raised her to love Jesus and try to make good choices and provided for her needs.

Then how could this have happened?

I don't know. Why does anything bad happen? There are so many quick and easy answers to that...but none of them really work for me right now.

The world's broken. Yup. That's true. It's broken and painful and confusing. And sometimes it is a deep pit and it sure is hard to see the light.

But there is light. Yes. It is there. And in the moments when we can't see it we need to just remember that it is there. And sooner or later it will warm us, illuminate our way.

I hope that Brooke's mom...and dad....and sister are able to remember the light.

So, I think about my kids. They are so precious to me. And all I can do is be diligent, pray for them, love them, show them the ways of Christ.

And then I have to trust.

Even though sometimes that trust can seem impossible. Even though we don't understand early deaths, heartbreaks, disappointments, offenses; we must trust.

Every night right before our kids drift off to sleep, we sing a song that pulls its lyrics from Proverbs. "Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Don't worry about tomorrow, He's got it under control. Just trust in the Lord with all of you heart and He will carry you through."

Don't worry. Trust. He'll carry you through.

I believe. And I need help where I doubt.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Miss Susie Story--Skipping Work in Doug's Car

{From 1999-2010 I worked with kids...sometimes, to bribe them, I'd tell "Miss Susie Stories". I'm using them again to bribe...bribe you to "follow" my blog. Shameless, absolutely. I will occasionally treat you to these ridiculous stories...all true, some exaggerated for comedic purposes. Enjoy yourself at my expense.}

The summer between my Junior and Senior years in high school I worked at a fast food joint. Let's just say billions were served and a clown was involved. I hated that job. Massively. My manager scheduled me for the morning shift almost every day. I saw the egg substance that became the egg muffins (and I use the word "egg" loosely here, friends), smelled the incessant frying of "bacon" and "sausage" and "potatoes". And, let me tell you, customers at 7 am, pre-coffee, are evil. I don't joke about this.

I only took the job so that my friend Julie would get a tiny raise (she wanted to be a manager and recruited me to help her climb the greasy ladder of fast-food success).

Now, you need to understand, Julie was 1) blonde, 2) bubbly, 3) loved her job.  The customers loved her even when she royally screwed up their orders. When the two of us were taking orders at the counter her line was always full, customers preferred her...especially the guys.

Whatever. Less work for me.

Anyway, one night before an early Saturday morning shift I stayed over at Julie's house. We were both supposed to work the next day. And, for one reason or another (not because we were drunk or high...so don't even go there) we both decided that we didn't want to work. So, we did the responsible thing. We called in "sick" for each other.

"Hi, this is Julie's big sister," I said, cleverly disguising my voice. "Julie had a major asthma attack and will need to miss work. She is very sad about it."

Then Julie called.

"Yes, this is Susie's mom. She has explosive diarrhea. I don't think you want her working today...oh, you don't mind? Well, that's disturbing. She won't be there anyway."

Diarrhea? Really? And explosive at that. Thanks a lot, jerk.

Well, regardless of the looming humiliation of everyone at work thinking I was exploding, I was happy. We didn't have to work! Yippee Skippy!

We slept in, listened to a little Pearl Jam and drank highly caffeinated beverages until we were shaky.

"Hey," Julie said at one point. "You hungry?"

"Yeah. I could really go for a burger." I answered.

"Awesome."

But then we realized that we didn't have a car. And that the only fast food place within walking distance was the one that we were playing hooky from. Oh, the problems that American teenagers face.

There was, however, a car parked in the driveway. A very new, very shiny, very red Beretta. It belonged to her big brother Doug. It was his favorite thing in all the world.

"Doug will let us take his car." Julie hopped off her bed and skipped down the steps.

"What do you want?" Doug asked, still...um...not feeling well from the night before.

"Dougie, we need your car."

After a lengthy negotiation he handed her the keys. We had to follow 3 rules.

1. No eating in the car
2. No drinking in the car
3. No crashing the car

Julie assured him that we would abide by the rules. And we were on our way.

We picked up value meals at a joint (the same company that we worked for) a few blocks away. Then Julie insisted that we drive past our place of work, eating our burgers and drinking our pop (or soda for you Non-Michiganders). We shoved the food into our mouths, laughing like fools at our manager for believing that we were both sick.

Then Julie turned left. But she didn't look first. I saw the other car headed for us before she did. And, being a clear thinker in times of emergency, I passed out. Before the impact.

When I woke up I saw the windshield inches from my face, caved in from the crash. All across the crinkled glass was splattered coke.

"Crap," I said. "Doug's going to kill us. We drank in his car."

Then I heard Julie screaming. "Get out! It's going to blow!" (silly girl)

I tried to move, but couldn't. I just knew that I was paralyzed. My spinal cord was severed and I would never walk again. I would have an afterschool special movie made about my life..."The Girl Who Skipped Work". A cautionary tale.

"Unbuckle your seat belt, stupid!" Julie kindly reminded.

Right. Shoot. No afterschool special.

I got out of the car, which, by the way, was turned the opposite way from where we were headed.

"Dang," I thought. "That's not good."

Then I looked up. Standing outside the fast-food place stood my boss, my coworkers and many regular customers.

"Uh oh."

Well, after being whisked away by an ambulance, spending far too long on a back board and being on "concussion watch" I was "okay".

And here's the part I DIDN'T tell the kids I taught...we totally got away with it. Seriously.

Doug (in a rare moment of humanitarianism) was just so relieved that we didn't get mangled and killed that he wasn't mad about his car. Oh...and the huge insurance check didn't hurt. He got an even cooler car.

Julie's mom was so worried that I would sue them that she bought me all the Brad Pitt stuff I could handle. Books, posters, videos. Pretty good out of court settlement, right? And the next week she let Julie drive her car so we could hang out with friends.

And, our manager was distraught that we had such a bad day...asthma and diarrhea PLUS a huge head on car accident. How terrible. She gave us the next two weeks off so we could heal. And, because of my whiplash, I didn't have to mop the dining room or clean the bathrooms anymore.

So, the moral of the story? Work ethic is important. Or don't eat and drive. Maybe don't let teenagers drive. I don't know.

What do YOU think the moral of the story should be?

  

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Feeling Ugly At the Zoo

This morning was absolutely lovely. So, the hubster and I decided that we should take the kids to the zoo. We spend a lot of summer time at the John Ball Zoo...we're members. That's right. We are zoological members. Yeah, we're classy like that.

We got the kids dressed...er...changed (if I tell my boys that they're going to get dressed they think I mean they will be wearing dresses). We found all 6 of their shoes...an great accomplishment in our family. We got them loaded into the van. I filled two travel mugs with coffee. I got into my seat. I flipped down the mirror on the sun visor.

Shoot. I looked awful.

I couldn't figure out what looked better...my hair in a ponytail or down. It's at "that"length. You know what I'm saying. It rests on my shoulders and flips up funny because of it. As I sat in the van I couldn't decide if the flip was cute or gross.

Then I realized I was wearing a sweater that I've over-worn. It's getting pilly. But the shirt under it was short sleeved which caused two problems...1) it was kind of chilly and 2) I hate my arms. So, I had to leave the sweater on.

I was already feeling frumpy and ugly. And we hadn't even left the driveway.

One thing you need to understand about Grand Rapids kids' places...the moms really do it up. For real.  Every time I've been to the zoo or children's museum or other child-centered activities the mamas are working the hair and make-up and little clothes. Yes...little clothes.

Sometimes I think I'm the only bigger sized mom out and about. And that I'm the only one who doesn't care to poof up my quaff. Or apply three layers of eyeliner.

Here's the problem...


This is what I take to the zoo. Yeah. He's HOT. Whew. Hot. And I'm not the only one to notice.

See. My hubby has a flexible work schedule. He's got the freedom to go to the zoo in the middle of the day. And most other daddies are not at the zoo. So he's getting a whole lot of attention. 

It's important to note: he has no clue how much he gets checked out. He has no concept. He is an amazing and very complimentary husband. 

But no matter how much he tells me that I'm beautiful, I doubt it. I've actually suggested he get an eye exam.

That's not very nice, is it? Not kind to me or him. 

So, here I was, walking through the hairsprayed and made over faces...and I felt so old and ugly and fat. 

I missed out on some of the fun because I was so obsessed over my looks. No. My perceived looks. Stupid.

It wasn't until I sat on the bench outside the Chimp House, all 3 of my kids snuggling with me that I realized I was being wrong. Jeff snapped a picture of us. And he told me I was his pretty wife. 

Dang it. Why don't I just believe him? He's a terrible liar. And I could tell he was telling the truth. 

I do the same thing with God. I doubt His love. I question His motives. I look at others and wonder why I can't be like them...why God made me like this.

And all the while God is saying "You're beautiful to Me". And I question His ability to judge such a thing.

Silly. 

But He loves my silly self. He looks at me, shakes His head and continues to transform me. 

I'm so grateful that He (and my husband) refuse to give up on me. I'm a story that is being written, edited, published and reviewed. But in the end I think it will be a great story...

And who cares if my hair's a little messy or my arms are floppy. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Robert Frost's Bloom (short story about unity)

My Granddad planted a tree when my mom was born. He transplanted the sapling from his childhood home across the state. It was just a normal, average oak tree. But he loved that tree. 

"One of these days I'm going to die," Granddad would say. "And I want you to make my coffin out of Robert Frost."

The tree was named Robert Frost. 

Well, Granddad died five years ago. And that old tree is still rooted in the front yard. Apparently people don't just have their own coffins made anymore. We buried him in a silver casket. Far from his wishes. But what could we do?

After the funeral the family started fighting. Right there at the lunch. Soil hadn't even filled in the hole of his grave yet. They fought for five years without stopping. It was all over money and things. Stupid if you ask me. Every holiday it would start all over again. One uncle was suing an aunt over the family china. A cousin no longer spoke to his mother because of $1,000. Harsh words spoken from mouths full of mashed potatoes. Angry gestures from hands holding a forkful of beans. 

When I got weighed down by all of the fighting I would go outside, sit under Robert Frost's branches. In the summer they were heavy with leaves and acorns. In the fall they held orange and red flags that waved in the wind. In the winter the bare limbs twisted and curled their way up toward the sky. 

The family gathered for dinner on Easter. It was the fifth Easter after his death.

"I'm not trying to fight you on this, Edwin," Aunt Leigh steamed. "But you must understand. Daddy wanted us to sell the estate."

"Leigh, you're sounding awfully money grubbing." Uncle Edwin.

"But if you read the will, it clearly states what we're to do with the house."

"Exactly. He wanted us to make money off it. Do you know how much we could make by turning it into a Bed and Breakfast?"

"Now who sounds money grubbing?"

"Well," my mother. "I think it would be nice to let Elle live on the property. You know, keep it up and all that."

"Mom," I said. "I don't know that I'd like that."

"Besides," Edwin. "It wouldn't be fair. Elle getting it and us...well...I'd feel a little cheated."

"Oh, no." My mother sipped her coffee. "We'd expect Elle to pay rent."

"Well," Leigh. "I just think that you're all reading the will wrong."

"Is it an interpretation issue?" I asked. "Why is it such a problem?"

"Oh, honey. You really don't understand. You're too young."

"But, mom, I'm 35."

"Uh huh. Just leave this to us to figure out."

"You don't seem to be doing that so well now, are you?" I walked out. I wanted to sit under Robert Frost.

It felt like nothing would ever make my family get things together. They would fight over the house until that was settled. Then they would find something else to argue over. And none of it really mattered at all.

How could I tell them that I carried the next generation in my womb? It might cause more problems. They didn't approve of my husband and his family. The lima bean sized offspring didn't need to enter this family. She or he didn't deserve to watch aunts and uncles and grandparents clawing each other apart with hateful words and spite.

I walked outside. The air was sharp, just cold enough for a sweater. But the sun was shining. I tipped my face up to catch the warm glow.

The sun was behind Robert Frost's branches. I had to squint as I walked toward my sitting spot. I lowered myself, letting my back rub against the course bark. I rested my body against the solid trunk. The smell of the tree and the earth triggered my mind to memories of childhood. Climbing into the limbs, reading books under the shade of leaves, running rings around the base, leaping over roots. I closed my eyes and absorbed the silence and calm.

After a few moments my heart stopped thudding, my anxious jitters subsided. I realized that I no longer cared what happened with the money or the house or the china. All that was worthless. I just wanted to sit with my family and share memories of my Granddad. To tell stories and recite his wise words. To let the next generation in on how great a man he was. All the rest was just a vapor. It was nothing.

I looked up and saw the gold dots of bloom on the tips of Robert Frost's fingers. The hope of spring nestled in my heart.

Something new was coming.



Winnebago Man (a repost...because I really like this story)

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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pawn Shop (short, short story)

    

 I already drove around this block about 10 times. Past the abandoned gas station, the grungy park, the weeping willow. I know what that old tree feels, hanging low like that and looking just sad. Sucking up all the water it can, storing it up for the dry times.
            I wish I’d been so wise. Cause I’m stuck in the middle of nothing and it sure is a dry season for me. And I don’t have no clue how to fix it at all.
            I got my resolve. Somehow on this tenth lap around the block I knew I need to do it. Just park the car, get out and do what I have to. The velvety box makes a huge lump in my jeans pocket.
            The heavy door makes a creaking sound as I swing it open.  My feet cause the floor to creak a little. It’s dusty in here. Always been that way. Probably always will. People’s junk line the walls. I know who must this stuff goes with. The box of records is Stubby John’s. The old rocking chair with no seat is from the old Kagger house. That set of aluminum pots belong to my gramma.
            All this jumble is only here on account of everything shutting down; the mill, the factory, the old family stores. Ain’t a soul here getting a paycheck. Most too proud to get help from Uncle Sam. So they sell what they got. They can’t do nothing else. So they bring it here. And they get cash to pay for their pills or buy a bag of groceries. Maybe they gotta pay a bill or two. But in two weeks they have to come right on back and sell something else.
            “Hey there, Libby Lou!” hollers Jack. He sits watching Mrs. Baxter’s old T.V. behind the cash register. “You come to buy something?”
            “Naw,” I answer. “I gotta sell something.”
            “Oh. You need some money for that big wedding of yours?”
            “Not really.”
            I go over and touch the leather saddle resting on a sawhorse. It’s filthy, never got cleaned since Jack get it. But some rich guy’ll come and think it’s a deal. He’ll jew it down to a better price on account of it being so dirty. And Jack’ll be glad to make a few bucks off it.
            “What you come here for?” Jack turns the volume down. “What you got for me to buy?”
            “Oh, I don’t know.”
            “Come on, Libby. You can trust old Jack.”
            I reach into my pocket and pull out the box. It thuds on the counter after I toss it over to him.
            “I gotta sell that.”
            “Naw, Libby.” He reaches over and turns off the T.V. “You gonna need this for the wedding. Ain’t no bride get married without a ring. It ain’t right.”
            “Well, who says I’m getting married?”
            “What in heaven’s name is going on?” Jack puts his hand on the box. “Ain’t Greg treating you right?”
            “He’s gone.”
            “Gone? What you mean, girl?”
            “Gone. He ain’t here no more. What else could I mean by that.”
            Jack is quiet. I can tell he wants to look at that ring, see how big the diamond is. He wants to inspect the gold.
            “I don’t want to talk about it. Just tell me how much you’ll give me for that.”
            “Alright.”
            Jack opens the box and has to squint to see anything. It’s just a cheap piece of junk from the super market. But it’s real gold. And that chip of white is a real diamond. He moves it around, seeing how it shines in the light.
            “How much you think you can give me?”
            “Why you need to sell this? Don’t you wanna keep it around just in case?”
            “In case what?”
            “He comes back?”
            “He ain’t coming back.” I’m getting mad. I just want to know how much cash I can get. “How much, Jack?”
            “I hate to tell you, but it ain’t worth much. What you need money for, Libby? You got troubles?”
            “Don’t everybody? Now, how much you gonna give me?”
            “Gawl, Libby. You know, it ain’t that much. Probably 30, 40 bucks.”
            “What?” I feel my heart go quicker. “That’s bull and you know it.”
            “Come on. You know I can’t get much for it. I can’t even be sure I’ll sell it. I’m doing you a favor.”
            “But I paid $150 for it.”
            “You got ripped off.”
            “Bull...”
            “Listen, honey.” Jack interrupts.
            “Don’t you dare call me ‘honey’.”
            We stare each other down. I feel something like daggers coming outta my eyes. He looks like he’s gonna back down. But I can’t be sure. He looks back at the ring.
            “Okay.” His voice is gentle. Almost like what a daddy should sound like. I wish I had my daddy back.
            “Okay what?”
            “Listen. I know you got your heart broke.”
            “You don’t know nothing of the kind.”
            “Right. I don’t. But I can guess you did. I never seen a girl come in to sell a ring unless she got her heart broke. And every one of ‘em is as mean as you.”
            He puts the ring on the counter. It’s not pretty. It’s not the ring I wanted. But it’s the ring Greg gave me. The ring I had to give him the money to buy.
            “Here,” Greg had said. “You win. I’ll marry you.”
            Almighty. How’d I fall for that stupid man? Why’d I think he’d be a good man for me? I must be the dumbest creature on this earth.
            “Fine,” I say to Jack. “I’ll let you have it for $60.”
            “I can’t do that much.”
            “50?”
            “Nope. Not a penny over $44.”
            “You rat fink.” I feel a fever in my cheeks. “You think you can buy my life for 44 bucks? You can’t! You can’t have it!”
            “Now, calm down, dear.”
            “Shut up. You just shut up right now.” I slam my hands on the counter. “You give me that ring back right now.”
            “Lib...”
            “And I want the box, too.”
            He gently puts the ring in the box. “Listen, I didn’t mean nothing by it. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
            “That’s fine, Jack. But you ain’t gonna make a fool outta me.” I take the box and shove it back into my pocket. “I ain’t mad at you. I’m just having myself a bad time right now.”
            “I can see.”
            “I hope you and the family have a nice evening.”
            Passing the trash I leave Jack’s pawn shop. I get back into my car and kick up dust driving away. I go as fast as I can. Away from the town, the people, my family. I get away from the house I shared with Greg. I can’t look at none of them again. Not one face or building or street sign.
            I gotta start over. Gotta straighten up my back, keep from drooping low. Find a place where I can suck up something from this life. I ain’t got a clue where, I ain’t know how. But I need to start brand new.