Smell Like Dirt

Weekly Photo Challenge: Abstract

grass and sidewalk abstract 2b sm

Photo by Fluffy Pool


In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.
― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

Fun with Filters: This was originally a plain photograph of grasses and their shadows on the sidewalk. It’s easy to go overboard with filters, and for this challenge I really did!  –but it was challenging fun, and like most symmetrical pictures this one has a Rorschach Test quality to it. I see earth, bugs, leaves fighting for sunlight. What do you see?



Prompt: Disappointment

daughter and new brother

Probably my very earliest memory was around the time Daniel was born.

I was nearly two years old, and I remember lying in my bed— it must have been a crib— in the dark at night, staring at this little stranger who occupied another crib, a new one, just opposite me. I stared hard, and in my memory this stranger stared back. Two babies, staring it out. I remember hating this baby out of some kind of primeval fear and malice, and wishing it was gone. But no matter how much I stared malevolently at this lump of baby, he didn’t disappear.

He had brown eyes, like mine, but blond hair, which went every which way, no matter how Mama cut it. He had a head full of cowlicks. It was soft to the touch, like a kitten’s fur, but as soon as the water dried from combing it, the tufts of hair would stand up again, like vampires climbing out of coffins. So Mama kept it short, which didn’t really help, since he always looked like possums had chewed on his head while he slept.

Even as a baby he  was reckless. If he wanted to investigate a chicken or a tree or a blazing fire, he might cast my mother a cursory glance as if to say, “Here I go, are you paying attention?” and off he went on his uncanny fast crawl. I don’t know how many times I saw Mama swoop him up by his feet! —at the very last moment before the injury or explosion or fall into the abyss. Even thought I despised this baby and wished him harm, in my tiny calculating mind I thought that drawing my mother’s attention to his reckless and naughty baby behaviour might get him into serious trouble or maybe even cause my mother to realize her great error in bringing him home. So I alerted her when he strayed toward a bee’s nest or a sharp bit of glass or a growling dog. I would do nothing to intervene myself, but just alert Mama to his transgressions. In this way I inadvertently saved his hide countless times.

Mostly though, I watched him breastfeed, my eyes drilling into him with intense loathing, or watched my parents coo and giggle with him, this interloper, this boy! I was forced to conjure up bad dreams in the night, to get my parents’ attention, or by reacting theatrically  to a scrape or scratch— howling endless distressing shrieks at the sight of a drop of blood.

If he sensed my animosity, he did not show it. He always seemed quite pleased to see me. If he baulked while being fed, up in his special little chair that used to be mine— it was pink, in fact— if he baulked while Mama brought the spoon of goop to his mouth, all I had to do was make the slightest funny face, the most insignificant rise of an eyebrow or the start of a tongue poking out of my lips, and he would open his fool mouth and laugh with delight. That very soft laugh that he had, that sounded like a little fairy cough.

But he couldn’t fool me with that toothless grin and the cough of the elves. I wished him dead, even though I did not know what death was. I didn’t care. I wanted my world back.



Prompt: Earth


Please don’t think we were a bunch of animals rutting recklessly in outer space. Honestly, we were not.

The fact that Sara did not know who the father of her child was indicated a certain carelessness, but during those last months before we reached Beta Omega we were, I think partially insane. All of us. How would you feel, careening to a new planet you only hoped would be habitable, never to see your loved ones or your home, or a forest, flower, bird, or bacon ever, ever again? And you had the responsibility of ethically, intelligently, peacefully and safely populating a new world?

I could have been more careful, too. After all, my child would need to have a different father from his or her future partner, if they wanted to ensure they produced healthy children. There were eight of us, enough for a safe pool of DNA to mix and match, if we were careful.

As first medical officer, Rosa was tasked to oversee the health of all the unborn children. She spent weeks deconstructing the Sparwood project data, and various other biological  studies, and in the end came up with a startlingly simple solution.

“We will be monogamous,” she said at the meeting.

“Interesting,” said Haven. I could see the wheels turning in Haven’s mind, as she tried to catch Will’s eye, but he was leaning back in his chair motionless, as if he was dozing.

“Bloody hell,” said Ed.

“Of course,” said John. “Human culture is traditionally monogamous.”

“It’s an artificial construct,” said Sara. “A result of the patriarchy.” She tapped on her laptop. John frowned at her. I guessed that he was not one of the potential fathers of the child in her belly. Which got me to wondering, because the only one of the male crew I hadn’t, um, done the dirty with was Ed, whose character I found strangely obnoxious and off-putting, and was pretty sure I wouldn’t even be able to hate F him. But Sara could? I thought I knew her better than that.

“I believe monogamy evolved to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases,” I said. I knew I was right. I had read Bauch-McElreath before sleeping last night, not from any scientific curiosity, but because I’d had a bout of insomnia lately.

“We start now,” Rosa said, closing the moleskin notebook in front of her. “When Sara’s child is born, we’ll do all the usual tests to determine paternity.”

“Haven, will you marry me?” Ed said, and everyone laughed.

Chris said, “I don’t actually see the need, Rosa. I think we have enough Solos to prevent any unwanted births.”

“It’s not 100% effective,” Rosa said. “We don’t take chances.”

“No,” said Chris.

And that, my friends, is why I seduced Christopher that very night.


  • Image: 2001, A Space Odyssey

Anita Day is Dead

Prompt: Locked

cats in zoo

Bernard picked the worst possible outing for him and his new grandson.

His grandson wasn’t “new” exactly; he was sixteen, but then Bernard hadn’t known he had a daughter, let alone a grandson, until two weeks ago.

DNA found him, and he was surprised to discover that his clumsy liaison with Anita, in the front seat of his vintage Ford, had produced a child. He wasn’t even sure, at the time, that they consummated the act.

The boy’s name was Andrew, and they were to be thrust together for a Saturday afternoon at the insistence of his daughter Emily, whom he’d talked to a few times on the telephone but never met. She had a nice soft voice, and was full of questions, and readily answered any of Bernard’s questions about their lives and about her mother. He learned that Anita Day was dead. Bernard felt sorry, in some little honeycomb of his heart, right next to the mild resentment that she hadn’t told him of his daughter, and his sense of nostalgia for something he’d never actually had a chance to experience.

Emily and Andrew turned up at Bernard’s house at 1:20 pm. He had cleaned it up, with the help of a neighbour, since things like the floor boards and the tops of cupboards and the frames of pictures hadn’t been cleaned in far too long. The floors were adequate, since Bernard had a Roomba that he won in a raffle. It just toodled around the house by itself most days, a companion that he started to feel kindly towards, when he’d had a few too many glasses of beer.

He made sure the cats stayed outside, in case one or both of his new family had a problem with cats. He hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

Emily was 39 years old, very stylish and fit, and fair of face, like her mother (as far as Bernard remembered) and her son. Andrew was a good foot taller than Bernard and bore the unshakeable glumness of a teenager, but was mostly cooperative when Emily told him to say hello to his granddad, shake his hand, and so on.

“I guess this is awkward,” Bernard said, when Emily had driven away.

“A bit,” said Andrew.

“Do you like cats?” asked Bernard.

They went to the backyard where four cats were sunning, running, digging in the garden, and sleeping. “They aren’t all mine,” Bernard said. “Just two of them, the tabby and the grey. The other two are just visiting.” The trees were full of birds, chirping, trilling, squawking. Bernard had never really noticed how noisy they were.

Andrew played with the cats for a bit, and they seemed to like him, which was good. Then Bernard said they could maybe go to the zoo for the afternoon.

“The zoo?” said Andrew, as if it was a foreign word.

“My grandfather took me there when I was a boy. I thought I would carry on the tradition,” said Bernard.

Bernard had been eight and a half years old, and was utterly enthralled with what he saw, and what his grandfather told him on that day. He told him that porcupines had 30,000 quills, that crocodiles can’t stick out their tongues, that flamingos had to turn their heads upside down to eat. Oh, and he also told Bernard that he and grandma were getting a divorce, but that’s another story for another time.

But this time, on this visit with his new sixteen year old grandson, Bernard felt a sense of deep dread and foreboding as soon as his taxi pulled into the parking lot.

They didn’t stay long. Bernard suggested a visit to White Spot instead, remembering the constant and voracious appetite of teenage boys.

It was a good day, a great day in so many ways. Meeting his daughter, his grandson, walking, talking, learning about one another. Noticing that Andrew had his great-grandmother’s eyes. Watching him scratch the back of his neck when he was nervous, just like Bernard. Eating burgers with special sauce with the same concentrated gusto.

Then there was the zoo. All those animals. Alone in bed that night, Bernard tried to summon up all the good memories of the day, but all he could think about was the brume of sorrow that enshrouded that place, the zoo. He would have to do something about it.


Prompt: Fog


Leep couldn’t believe it.

He was sitting in his lounger, the comfortable one, with a pad of art paper in his lap, sketching ideas for his latest book, The Fog Monster. It was challenging, trying to illustrate fog, especially since he was not a trained artist. Did he give the fog a face? Did he give it a form? In his head the Fog Monster was unseeable, but children might need a monster they could recognize, a human-style monster that they could understand and relate to. After all, the Fog Monster wasn’t all bad. Leep didn’t want to scare his potential readers to death. But kids should know that life wasn’t all a bed of roses. That wouldn’t help them in later life.

He had the evening news on the television. He liked the news readers: Hal and Denise, and the pretty weather person, and the sports reporter who made all the jokes. He felt almost like he would be comfortable with them, you know, going out to dinner or something. They seemed like they would be easy to talk to.

He only half-paid attention to the broadcast as he contemplated his drawings, his mechanical pencil in hand. But he heard something that made him stop cold, as he was erasing the Fog Monster’s eyebrows, on the grounds that they were a bit too much.

Something terrible had happened. Denise was announcing that a man had been arrested for the murder of Vincent Demarco.

Leep could not feel his heartbeat, nor that he was breathing, nor his toes. He only felt a cold finger of sweat creep up his his spine, as he watched the police spokesperson speak in front of a gathering of news reporters.

He tried to concentrate, to really listen, but it was hard.

We have a suspect in custody, said the spokesperson. He has confessed to the crime. His name is Anthony Gizmodo, of no fixed address.

They showed a picture of him they’d taken after he was arrested. He was unshaven and unkempt, his eyes open a little too wide. Leep leaned in a little closer to the screen. Oh no. It was Tony, the homeless guy he passed every morning on the way to work.

Leep used to drop change, a few coins, in Tony’s hand or his hat as he passed, but he had to admit, Tony wasn’t the friendliest homeless man on the block. But, Leep guessed, he had no reason to be friendly. He was homeless, and neither Leep nor any other person with a home understood what his life was like. He regarded the passers-by, with their homes and lives, with a palpable resentment.

Tony was angry and sad, but he was no killer.

Why had he confessed? Was he coerced? Did he need attention? Was he hungry? Was he crazy? Leep knew only one thing: Tony was innocent of the crime.

He spent the rest of that Friday night, and all of Saturday, trying to figure it out. He was frustrated and confused. But he really knew what he had to do all along, the second he heard about Tony’s arrest.

On Sunday night, after dark, Leep put on his black ski jacket. He got the gun out from its hiding place. He felt numb. Once he’d seen a film of a gazelle, on the National Geographic channel, stare down a leopard. They’d locked eyes, and, Leep thought, reached a cosmic truth. The gazelle had no escape. It surrendered, and was chased down easily by the leopard.

Leep knew he was not the leopard. He was the gazelle.

He pulled up the collar of his jacket, opened the front door, and headed out into the night. There was a light mist, a fog, that lay as light as a baby’s blanket on the streets and homes and businesses and pedestrians. By the end of the night, they would know that Tony was innocent.


Prompt: Fake

“It’s fake,” said Marcus, sneering. “Do you think I would waste good money on a diamond bracelet for you?”

My good money,” Envy said, turning the bracelet round and round on her wrist, tears stinging her eyes.

“Your money? What did you do to earn it? Mommy and Daddy’s money, not yours.”

The wind gusted and her hair whipped around her eyes. She found she was clasping the railing, knuckles white. She had an impulse to hurl herself over the balcony into the impossibly black water, flecked with the churning white of the ship’s wake. She might have jumped, if her affairs were in order. Marcus was still in her will — his inheritance diminished but still significant. He had persuaded her to give it — them — one more chance. This cruise was meant to heal their wounds, but instead had ripped them open.

Now was not the time to wonder what went wrong. She couldn’t blame him for being shallowly attracted to her wealth — she had been equally, shallowly attracted to his Hollywood handsomeness. Perhaps he had also been drawn to her shyness and inexperience, as she was drawn to his gregarious charm.

She indulged his narcissism: wasn’t it just a dash of male ego? His lies were little white ones. His financial recklessness, a passion for life. His new-found contempt for her, restlessness. His cheating, her fault.

She had excused his elaborate gifts for her, bought on her credit card. The leather coat, the fur shawl (she returned it), the weekends to luxurious spas, the jewelry, including this exquisite vintage bracelet, which he told her (and her parents, who were there that Christmas) was composed of diamonds set in platinum. The gifts made him feel more manly, or something. They made him feel important and in control, after growing up in poverty. They impressed her family. They impressed their friends.

It only took a second for her to decide what she was going to do.

Envy turned to him. “Fake? You bastard.” She unclasped the bracelet from her wrist and tossed it, in one grand and graceful gesture, over the balcony, where they watched it sparkle briefly in the ship’s light, then disappear into darkness.

He grabbed her arm, but was too late. “You stupid, stupid bitch!” he cried. “It wasn’t fake. It was real. It cost a fucking fortune, you– god damn it!” He hung over the balcony as if he could resurrect the bracelet by sheer willpower.

Envy watched him, and a slow smile crossed her face. “Marcus, I know it wasn’t fake. I had it appraised. It was worth about 35 thousand dollars.”

“Then why–” he stared at her in shock. She thought she saw a tear of loss, frustration, and even horror, pool at the corner of his eye. He had tried to hurt her, and he had succeeded. But for once and for the first time, she had turned the tables.

“I wanted to see your face. If the bracelet was fake, you would have laughed. I’m tired of being laughed at.” She leaned over the railing, and they stood side by side, staring into the sea. “Bye-bye, bracelet,” she said. “Bye-bye, marriage.”