Circus

Prompt: Circus

FleaCircusCartoon

Maxine rolled in the dirt.

Then she sat and scratched her ears. One of the cats, the grey one, came over to where Maxine sat, in a garden bed full of day lilies, to inspect. They touched noses, and the cat backed away.

Sorry, Maxine thought, and she was pretty sure the cat understood.

Finally, Bernard appeared at the back door with a metal bowl full of water. He spotted Maxine, covered in dirt, and scratching herself madly.

“Maxine!” he cried with delight, setting the water down on the porch. Then: “How’d you get into the yard?”

Maxine stood and shook, releasing most of the dirt, which flew out from her fur and settled again among the lilies. She had dug under the fence where it was furthest from the uneven ground.

Bernard didn’t mind. It wasn’t as if the cats wandered out of the yard. But his lily garden looked a little worse for wear.

“C’mere, girl,” Bernard called, and took a treat out of his pocket. Maxine bounded over to him, tongue lolling, and snatched the milkbone from his hand. He rubbed behind her ears. Maxine sat on the porch, scratched her neck with her back leg, and looked up at Bernard.

“Well, ok then,” Bernard said. “Do you mind a bath?”

She trotted behind him as he opened the door, walked through the kitchen, into the hallway and into the bathroom. He put a white rubber mat in the tub and gestured to Maxine, who jumped in.

One very sudsy bath later, Bernard relaxed on the back porch with the morning’s newspaper, the grey cat in his lap. Maxine lay stretched out on the lawn, her fur still damp, in the warm sunshine. The flea circus was gone.

Happy Time

Prompt: Blank

paper-doll

Kimberly watched her mother fill in the cheque. It looked as natural to her as her breathing. She eyed the paper fondly, as if it were an old friend. The pen, lightly clasped in her hand, seemed to guide her, rather than the other way around. It was gold in colour, part of a set. Her mother had several desk sets, corporate gifts to her husband, that Donna swapped out regularly.

She must have developed special muscles to sign cheques with such a flourish, the flourish of an artist, a dancer. Instead of being an artist or a dancer, she was a woman who excelled in writing cheques.

There was a tiny smile on her mother’s face. It was her resting face. Unlike Kimberly, who had a “resting bitch face”– an intimidating scowl– no matter what her mood. Perhaps her mother had willed her face that way, or perhaps Dr Stanford had done it. A tiny, tiny smile, that suddenly, to Kimberly, made no sense. It was enraging. She clenched her hands into a fist, digging her nails into her palms.

A memory parachuted into her mind: she was in a small inflatable wading pool  with another little girl, playing. Their mothers sat in lawn chairs nearby. When the little girl and her mother were gone, she and her mother were alone in the kitchen, and there was a puddle on the white tile floor, and Kimberly was shivering in her wet bathing suit, desperate for her mother’s warmth, and her mother shouted at her. Kimberly couldn’t remember what she said. She only remembered feeling cold and lost. She shivered now.

“There,” said Mrs Bak, triumphantly tearing the cheque out of the book with another flourish, and offering it to Jo, who stood in front of her desk like a supplicant.

Jo took the cheque and, pretending not to read it, folded it and put it into the zippered compartment of her leather bag.

“The balance on successful completion, now,” said Mrs Bak.

“Of course,” said Jo.

“I want this wedding to be subtle,” Mrs Bak said.

Kimberly laughed.

Her mother frowned at her and continued. “Subtle as opposed to ostentatious. The best of everything, but not twee or frilly or overpowering. Do you understand?”

Kimberly said, “I think Jo gets that you want the world to admire and envy you, without your seeming to care if they do or not.”

“Jo?” said Mrs Bak, ignoring Kimberly, the tiny smile back.

“I understand completely,” said Jo.

“Kimmy, what time is the fitting? We should probably be off.” She rose to her feet, smoothing her skirt. “Don’t look so glum! This is a happy time, despite your cynicism.”

“I’m deliriously happy,” said Kimberly. “This is just my resting bitch face.”

My Last Thought

Prompt: Orderly

Cavalry_Orderly_Edwin_Forbes

My name is Finn McCauley, and I died on June 12, 1864, on a battlefield as hot and as bloody as I had ever seen. As a scout and reconnaissance officer in General Custer’s cavalry, my role was more lurking, skirting, and alerting about all things to do with Death, not confronting the beast face to face.

The camp, while less convenient, and starker, than the one previous, was still orderly, with rows of tents in precise lines, and avenues between wide enough to accommodate artillery or two horsemen riding side by side. When your surroundings have order, so then does your spirit, the General once said, and I found it to be true, as the men, even surrounded, had faith in their leader and in “Custer’s Luck”.

I was the man who alerted the General about Hampton’s Confederate cavalry brigade approaching on our right flank, albeit late, as we suffered casualties, but the General was determined to prevail, and when our flag-bearer was shot, he took the flag and hid it in his jacket, so the enemy could not claim it.

I remember well the heat, the kind of profound and airless heat that would comfort the Devil himself. Yet my thoughts were not of the Devil, or Death, even then. I thought of Laura, whom I was to marry upon my return. Perhaps all doomed men dream of their loved ones. Or perhaps all men, doomed or not, dream of the moment of return, away from a merciless sun, mud, dust, insects, the stench of a thousand men and their blood and their waste, the futile cries of the wounded and broken, the scent of fresh dirt, dug to bury the fallen.

Was I buried? Or left behind during our retreat?

And I remember another, searing heat, not from without but from within, and praying that my horse would not suffer. Yes, that was my last thought.

Are all men so trivial, so banal, so inconsequential? Do all such men deserve to die?

 


Hurray for Science and Scientists

Prompt: Epitome

Epitome database

 

This illustration of Epitome, a database of structurally inferred antigenic epitopes in proteins, i.e., known antigenic residues and the antibodies that interact with them, including a detailed description of residues involved in the interaction and their sequence/structure environments, is for me the epitome of specialized science: opaque, brilliant, obscure, necessary, esoteric, and curious. Scientists from all over the world contributed (and still do?) to this epitome.

This is not a criticism or a joke. How I would love to have a Masters in Bioinformatics with Systems Biology, for example, instead of being a good speller and able to do some crosswords in pen, and the fact I once made a serious and unlikeable woman laugh, and can draw a little, and studied geophysics once, also religious studies, children’s lit, and kinesiology. My life is a failure, as far as specialized science goes.

I know enough to know that I hardly know anything at all. And I know that because I don’t understand this science, or parts of it might be unpleasant or scary, doesn’t mean I can dismiss it. I believe in believing the experts. Hear that, climate-change deniers?

 

Epitopes

Schematic representation of two antibodies interacting with linear and conformational epitopes.
[Converted to a poem by me]

a.

Linear epitopes
are short and continuous
like dachshunds.
After denaturation
the linear epitopes may still
be able to
bind
the antibody.
I have hope.


b.

Conformational epitopes
are domains
of proteins
composed of specific regions of
protein chains.
Never alone.
After denaturation
the discontinuous epitope
can no longer
bind
the antibody.

Love conquers all.

 


First Date

Prompt: Fork

dogs-goofy-dnr_2863294k

Email to: Hammond
Email from: Jessica

Dear Hammond,

Thank you very much for a wonderful dinner, which you paid for, after declining my offer to share, twice. I hope, if we go out to dinner again, that you will allow me pick up the tab. Or perhaps, if you feel it isn’t too forward, and if you take to heart some of the points in this email, I could cook a modest but tasty meal for you in my apartment, some time next week.

I always think that when dating someone for the first time, it would be nice to get feedback. How else can we better ourselves, learn how to best present to a new acquaintance, so that they are attracted to us and not repelled?

First impressions are important. You chose to wear a golf shirt, which while colourful, seemed just a tad too casual for the restaurant; and I wore a dress, which made us unmatched in terms of formality, which makes for an awkward start. I’m not suggesting a tuxedo or anything silly! But perhaps an actual shirt, even madras, instead of a polo shirt, unless we are chain/franchise dining?

You were there ahead of me and stood to introduce yourself: points for both, though you did almost knock over your drink. Nervousness is nothing to be ashamed of, but the drink looked to be mostly finished? Already? An initial compliment– nice dress, you look better in person, etc. would not have gone amiss. As for your height, that can’t be changed, so it is perfectly fine.

Grooming: C+

They say a great test of character is the way someone treats servants and animals. No complaints there, although you could have spent a little less time chatting with “Jeremy” about the finals, as if you were old pals. The friendly rivalry, which extended through the entrees and into dessert, got a little tedious from my standpoint, as I don’t follow hockey, and only ever watch for the half-time shows.

Your order for steak “blood rare” was a wee bit graphic, but as I’m a nurse I was not sickened, but someone not in the medical profession might have found it off-putting.

I did not appreciate the intimacy of your helping yourself to one of my new potatoes.

Hammond, you grip your fork as if you are opening a car door. It is best to let it rest in your hand, open side up, and use the knife to encourage food to stay put until it gets to your mouth. This is not a deal-breaker, as it is behaviour that is easily corrected.

As for your dog, Chunky, as I referenced above, it is a positive sign to be attached to and affectionate towards lesser creatures. But it was almost as if Chunky was at the table with us, he was so prevalent in your conversation. Perhaps he was hiding under the table waiting for scraps? (Just a little joke.) I get that Chunky can multi-task, that he lost his tail in a fishing incident, and that you need to search him daily for ticks. All fascinating stuff, Hammond, but there are other topics of conversation!

You stayed away from the subjects of politics and religion, but I’m not sure that was a courtesy or because you are not well-versed in those areas.

When I returned from the Ladies’ Room before dessert you were on your cellphone. I refrained from asking to whom you were talking, but chose to wait patiently for the call to finish. I would avoid cellphone conversations or texting, as it implies either 1) an uncontrollable desire to share some or all parts of the evening with a friend, which is suspicious, or 2) boredom, neither of which is particularly flattering.

Your joke, during dessert, about the frost-bitten preacher was more appropriate for a second, or even third date.

In future, or with other dates, I advise that you not take a giant scoop of your pie with cream and wave it in front of my face as if it was a plane coming in for a landing (presumably in my mouth). If I want to try your dessert, I will delicately hint so.

By then you had consumed several alcoholic beverages, namely rum and coke, for which you seem to have a rather low tolerance. I would definitely assess your behaviour in this regard.

Thankfully, you were taking a taxi home, as you’d seen a television commercial about a dog waiting futilely for his master, who was killed in a drunk driving accident, to come home. Chunky again, in other words.

If I can compete with Chunky I would, as I originally stated, be open to another engagement. I make a vegetarian chili which is very popular among my friends; my other specialty is potato pizza. I know you are fond of potatoes.

Of course your feedback on our first date would be welcome, but not necessary.

Sincerely and with a hug,
Jessica

 


 

Email to: Jessica
Email from: Hammond

Dear Jessica:

Nice dress+
Nice cleavage+
You don’t follow hockey-
C+??
KInd eyes+
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
You’re a nurse?+
Potatoes+
Tim Horton 2 for 1 coupon (me)+ Thursday?

Love,
Hammond

P.S. Chunky was under the table.

 


 

Text to: Hammond
Text from: Jessica

See u Thursday. xx

 


 

The Surreal Army

Prompt: Countless

ski_jumping

The helicopter was gray with no markings. It lifted off, with them inside, and leaned into the wind, choppers pounding. Soon they reached high altitude, impossible altitude. The occupants breathed a sigh of relief. They would escape. No one could stop them.

Except for the Surreal Army.

The sky above the clouds was a clear, sharp, cold blue, and utterly silent, but for the chop of the helicopter blades.

Then the skiers appeared, hundreds of them, thousands, in the cloudless blue. Ski jumpers, leaning forward in elegant lines, arms at their sides, heads forward, graceful and perfect, soaring and fearless.

The gray helicopter lurched, as the skiers glided by, and discarded their unholy long skis by hurling them towards the helicopter. The helicopter lurched from side to side, trying to face the onslaught, but without grace or purpose, as the skiers fell away, without their skis, into an abyss.

But not before the gray helicopter, the blades compromised by a full surreal attack, its balance lost, careened into the ocean from a great height.

The Surreal Army.

What You Now Deserve

Prompt: Grain

beach shack trans

 

You will not change my mind, the letter started. Of course we vowed to share unselfishly (also to cherish one another, and a lot of other bullshit) but my darling, you are the one who broke those vows, not I.

I would never go back on my word, no matter what the temptation, what the motivation, what neglect or imaginary hurts I suffered, because I am a man of my word. Do you sincerely feel you were perfect? Because aside from the infidelity, you must remember your moodiness, your lack of unqualified support, your short temper, and your narcissism. Don’t pretend you didn’t know how much you let me down when you went out with your “friends”, when I needed you. Yes, I admit to needing a full-time partner, someone who also needs me. You chose your “friends” over me, time and time again.

And such “friends”: Obsessively creative to the point of boorishness; drug addicts, some of them; trying constantly to catch me out and prove they were smarter than me and everyone else outside the tiny, exclusive circle; pretentious, egotistical know-it-alls.

But you refused to listen to me. You, my partner in life, blatantly disqualified my opinions as unworthy, willfully dismissed my advice, and yet– and yet! –expected me to cater to your whims and hear every detail of your chaotic inner life. Not to say it was boring… but, my dear, it was. So if my eyes wandered, or I was forgetful about the minutia of your daily life, it was because of you– I am not your programmed servant.

Yet how often I felt it. You, returning from your workday, expecting a complicated meal and a sympathetic ear– as if my own work meant nothing! You, deciding when we were to have children, ignoring all previous discussions and refusing to even discuss alternatives when the test came back positive. It was if your every breath was devoted to making me feel small and insignificant.

I showed my love in all ways. Wanting you– and being rebuffed. Holding you– and feeling you go rigid with disgust. Gifts– that you put aside. Compliments in public– that you sneered at later.

I am not a mind reader. Your communication skills were lacking where I was concerned. While I tried, you made no effort to anticipate my wants and needs. So self-absorbed that you could not see the writing on the wall.

And now, you want the house. For you and Jack. So Jack doesn’t have to change schools and leave friends, or some such. It is not a disaster or even hardship to change schools, my dear; I did it many times as a child and it did nothing but make me stronger.

You are so proud of your income– go find a mansion worthy of your exalted position in life. Send our son to a fine, expensive school, out of the way, so you and your paramour don’t have to use our house, our bedroom, to perform your perversions.

I am as entitled to the house as you are. I am a recognized, contributing member of this community, every bit as much as you. Don’t use Jack as a pawn in this game. You won’t win it.

You were caught out in your infidelity, and now you must suffer the consequences. If your attorneys threaten or intimidate me in any way, I will double down. You know me. I don’t back away from a challenge. I am not a vindictive man, but a fair one. 

You will have to settle for the beach house, which is most inconvenient, I realize, since it is a great distance from your workplace and Jack’s schools, not to mention that it is more like a shack than a house: weeds as tall as a man, crumbling walls, garbage and debris on the so-called beach. Where there were once soft grains of fine sand, there are now sharp rocks and thistles– a fitting metaphor for what you have given up, and what you now deserve.

 


He signed his name in full at the bottom of the letter, as if it was a business correspondence. She placed it on the counter, and took out her cell phone. She punched in a number, and waited for it to be answered.

“Jack sweetie?” she said. “We got the beach house!”