The Back of a Turtle

Prompt: Clouds

heart-shaped-cloud

Andrew and Sophie stretched out on two vinyl-strapped loungers in the back yard of Andrew’s grandfather Bernard, one summery spring afternoon, holding hands across the chasm, and staring into a perfect sky.

The blue of the sky was deep enough, and the clouds bright and varied enough, and the breeze just enough, to display constantly shifting myths and stories and shapes, for those who had the time and imagination.

“I see Richard Nixon doing a handstand on a ship with sails,” Andrew said.

“Yes, I see that,” said Sophie.

“Do you see the polar bear?”

“Pacing? Yes.”

“Look, a duck with a pipe.”

“Looks more like a hookah.”

“Do you see the god, with a spear in one hand a sword in the other, with the face of a cocker spaniel?” asked Andrew.

“No, where is that?” said Sophie, peering, since the sky canopy was enormous. “I do see a god riding a scooter carrying a golf club.” She squinted. “And a goddess in the middle of a cartwheel on the edge of a cliff.”

“The goddess is on the edge of a cliff?” Andrew asked.

“The god needs to carry weapons?” asked Sophie.

“Don’t look at the clouds just above the doctor’s place on the bluff,” Andrew said. “The god and goddess are going at it.”

“Even though the goddess is a virgin?” said Sophie.

“So is the god,” said Andrew after a pause.

They were both quiet for a moment. “There is a map of Italy on the back of a turtle,” Sophie said at last.

“Yes I see it,” said Andrew.

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Roman Summer

Prompt: Tourist
This is another excerpt from my Nanowrimo novel about twin sisters Isabella and Catrina.

sidewalk-cafe-piazza-navona-rome3

It was as if a spotlight suddenly shone on Bella. She brightened, straightened up in her chair and I knew Santino was approaching. I put my cigarette out in the ashtray on the table and brushed damp hair away from my forehead. This was the first time I was meeting him outside the environs of his workplace, the hotel bar. I was cool. I would be cool.

“Bella,” he said, in a fine deep voice, just like a man. He seemed a man to me, though he was not any taller than Bella, rather thin, and was so close-shaven that he looked like he was too young to have started a beard. He wore his dark, not entirely clean hair in a pony tail tied at the base of his neck. He leaned over and brushed her cheeks with his lips, European style, then turned to me.

I stood up and he took my shoulders, and we exchanged air kisses on each cheek. He smelled strongly of cologne, something very citrus, very forest, and made a tiny grunting sound when he kissed. I wondered if I had tobacco breath.

He sat in the wrought iron chair next to Bella, and I saw her seek out his hand. That was bold of her I, thought. I think she did it for my benefit, to prove she was brave and their relationship was powerful. He grinned at me. He had perfect, perfectly white teeth.

I had only seen him in the muted light of the mirrored bar, when Mama and Bella and I had our pre- or after-dinner glass of wine. I saw that Santino had downy hair on his arms that caught the light. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, like the one he wore while bartending, minus the black vest, and a pair of rather tight jeans.

Bella had burgundy-coloured fingernails; we both did, having painted them that morning. We tended, naturally, to embrace the fact that we looked alike. We harboured the idea that we could substitute each other out, at any time (this was called The Game), and no one would necessarily be the wiser. I had a sudden longing to swap with Bella right now, to be the one sitting close to a man, holding hands in a cafe in Rome, his thumb rubbing my palm, his knee nudging mine. I longed for this even though I found him rather repulsive and fearsome… all the hair, the pores, what lay between his legs, so foreign.

I wanted to be the one to stand up with him, blow a kiss to my sister still in her wrought iron chair, with her coffee on the yellow tablecloth, and steal away with Santino to his parents’ house, where he lived, and where he brought Bella after his parents returned to their jobs after the long break for lunch. I would be there instead of Bella, lying on the couch with him watching Italian television, lazily wrapped around each other. I would hear him whisper in my ear about how beautiful I was, how much he wanted me, how I made him crazy. I would feel all the flushes, all the tingles, my flesh would move by itself when he touched it. I would feel his fingers on my scalp, as he buried his face in my hair, whispering now, and his had running down my shoulder, down my arm, and around my waist.

He often whispered in Italian, and Bella had no idea what he said. “He could be saying, oh, you are such a boiled egg,” Bella said. “I’ll secretly learn Italian and see what he is really saying.”

“How could you love someone that calls you an egg?”

“He has other good qualities,” Bella told me.

We were about to turn sixteen, and I had only been kissed in the basement of Jimmy Russell’s basement, when I was eleven , and there was no love. Jimmy was fifteen and I suspect he wanted to practice his kissing skills for more worthy prey.

I didn’t know what it felt like to get down and dirty. I wanted to know. I hatched a tiny little plan.

First, I ran it by Bella, sort of.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” I said to her that night as we dipped kleenex into nail polish remover and made the burgundy polish disappear. “If we played The Game with Santino?”

Bella burst out laughing and, unfortunately, she didn’t take me seriously.

How to Find Water When You are Lost

Prompt: Water

river water painting

Hello, campers, hikers, adventurers, or hapless travellers whose cars break down in the middle of nowhere…

Here’s hoping you have notified friends, family or authorities of your plans for communing with nature so that you won’t have to wait weeks to be found.

We each require about two litres or quarts of water per day, and if you are lost and stressed you will probably need more, even in cold conditions, so sourcing water is a priority.

Here are some basic tips for finding water in the woods. Stay calm and alert, and good luck!

  • Water flows downhill. Obviously. So low-lying areas are your best bet for finding rivers and streams.
  • Animals know where the water is. Look for wildlife and animal tracks. Bird flight paths early in the morning can direct you to a water source.
  • Swarming insects, bless them, can indicate that water is close by.
  • Lush green vegetation is a another sign that water is near.
  • Shhh. Woods can be quiet. Take a moment in your search to listen for rivers, because the sound will travel.
  • Rainwater: use any and all containers to collect rainwater. A poncho or plastic sheeting strung up by corners can be a syphon for the water to flow into another container, or act as a water bag.
  • Fruits and other vegetation can provide sources of water. Think coconuts or cacti; or collect water overnight from wide, sturdy leaves.
  • Snow can be melted to provide water— frozen water can actually cause dehydration so take the time to melt it.
  • If you find a muddy area, you can dig a hole about a foot deep and wide and wait for it to fill with water. You’ll need some cloth to filter the water, but it should do in a pinch.

Purify! Almost all the water you source in the wild will need to be purified. Boil the water for 10 minutes, use water purification tablets, or be prepared with something called the Lifestraw, which is an iodine-free, big fat straw that can safely filter about 700 litres of water, with sales helping to provide safe drinking water globally.

Lifestraw


  • Note: The author is not affiliated with Lifestraw; just thought it was a cool idea.
  • Top image by Chris Sampson.

The Accident

Prompt: Deprive

vancouver_port_sunrise_burrard_inlet_puzzle

Lily-Rose Roades was the only child of Tom and Celia Roades, who were both productive human beings and stable parents until she was six years old.

Tom and another longshoreman, his friend Alec Rosewood, were walking along the tops of stacked cargo containers, using long poles to reach down and unfasten the boxes so a crane could later lift them ashore.

They walked slowly, as there was early morning dew and the container surfaces could be slippery.

Tom didn’t remember losing his footing, he remembered nothing of that morning, or of that week. Alec said Tom was out of his line of vision for just a few moments, and they found him below on the deck of the ship, his body shattered.

He was a lucky man. The broken bones healed, for the most part, but the blow to the head changed him forever.

Lily-Rose Roades soon realized the man who lived with them after the accident was not her father, even though he looked like and had the voice of her father, he wore her father’s clothes and slept in the bedroom with her mother.

She tried to love this new man, but she missed her father terribly. And this man was unloveable, waking her at all hours of the night for no reason. He drank alcohol, a lot of it, and while he never touched her he often shouted at her, things she didn’t understand and couldn’t remember.

Her school work suffered, and she was punished for poor concentration at school, and at home for her poor grades.

Her mother’s soul seemed to leave her body around this time. She quit her job. She pleaded with her husband to leave their child alone, but he did not. He continued to terrorize her and her mother continued to plead.

This went on for nine years. Lily-Rose became at various times difficult, remote, violent, self-destructive, depressed, and reckless.

She understood problematic childhoods. She recognized the neglected and abused. She recognized Todd Caper, and plotted to save his life as hers had been saved.

Unpredictable

Prompt: Fence

blue-striped-beach-umbrella

Jerry’s new next-door neighbours asked him to pitch in on a proper fence between their two properties, to replace the old post and rail, spruce fence that was falling in on itself. So Jerry paid less than half (since his was the “back side” of the fence) and the neighbours built a six foot high, cedar lattice-topped privacy fence.

They were leaving their side untreated, they told Jerry, because they liked the natural aging of cedar, but he should feel free to paint or stain his side as he chose.

So it was while he was applying a coat of semi-transparent wood stain and sealer to the lattice top of his side the fence, that he saw who he thought were his neighbours, Sandy and Ron, pulling weeds in the big old shrub and flower border up agains the back alley.

He couldn’t really tell if they were Sandy and Ron at first, because all he saw were two big asses, one a little narrower than the other, one sunburnt already, as they were experiencing a summer-like spring. They were uncovered, and it was harder than you might think to recognized asses and limbs without clothes on. When they stood, and Jerry was able to examine their faces objectively, he saw that yes, they were Sandy and Ron, his new neighbours.

Now Jerry had seen many bodies in his seventy years, that’s for sure, but it was the context this time, of folks he barely knew and had seen in pants or shirts or skirts or dresses, now with every body part hanging out. And body parts just hang there. We forget how body parts hang, Jerry thought. It seemed impractical to Jerry, evolution-wise, to have hanging, vulnerable parts, that could expose one to injury or impede flight from danger. It seemed a better design to have all those dangled parts housed internally.

But then, Jerry didn’t believe in a god or creator anymore; and a woman’s breasts were usually attractive to men, which was undoubtedly helpful when propagating the species, and probably a man’s penis revealed things about him that primitive women might have found educational.

“Jerry!”

It was not his neighbour Sandy’s voice, but the voice of Lily-Rose Roades, the young high school teacher who resided in the bungalow next to Jerry on the other side.

She was in the back lane. He ducked instinctively when she called his name, so Sandy and Ron wouldn’t see him peering through the lattice, and waved at Lily-Rose, who was holding a covered casserole dish.

He stepped off the ladder and they met at the gate, which was part of the old spruce fence, and hung on one hinge.

“I’m just going to say hello to the new neighbours,” Lily-Rose said. “I’ve never lived in a neighbourhood before, you know. So this is what you do, right?” And she held up the casserole, which was in a white Corning ware casserole dish decorated with blue flowers. “I just loved the jam and pickles you brought me when I moved in.”

“Oh, thanks again, and definitely what you do,” Jerry said.

Now Lily-Rose was a grown woman, and didn’t need protecting, but Jerry was old-school and chivalrous in his way, and didn’t like the thought of Lily-Rose inadvertently bumping into Sandy and Ron and their hanging parts.

“Do you have time for a cup of tea, a beer, or one of my famous Harvey Wallbangers?” Jerry asked. It was only 3 pm, but a weekend.

Lily-Rose had never tasted a Harvey Wallbanger before, which is a cocktail made from orange juice, vodka, and Galliano liqueur. They sipped their drinks on Jerry’s covered patio, and looked up when Ron appeared in the lane. He was poking his head around the tall fence. They could only see his uncovered face and torso.

“Hey neighbours,” Ron said, “care to join us for happy hour? Clothing optional.”

Lily-Rose happily took herself and her tuna and bow-tie pasta casserole into Ron’s garden, and she and Jerry joined Ron, Sandy, and their bits at a small round plastic table shaded by a blue striped umbrella.

She kept her clothes on, and so did Jerry.

The world was getting more and more unpredictable, Jerry thought. He had never felt comfortable with surprises, because they were so rarely pleasant ones, in his experience. But Sandy and Ron seemed to be nice folks, and he was startled by his fondness for Lily-Rose, and a body was just a body. He started to think, for the first time in his life, that unpredictability might not be a bad thing after all.

Learn to Fly

Prompt: Prophecy

rainy windshield

“What is your name?” the woman asked. Beside her, on the floor, a small child played with a plastic pail, shovel, and a box of ping pong balls.

“My name is Envy.”

“How did you come to find me?”

“A friend,” said Envy. “She said, tell Mrs Calabash that the cat strayed from the pier.”

The woman laughed. “Oh, that friend. Good.” The tea was ready. She poured hot, strong tea into two small porcelain cups, white edged in gold, resting in their white saucers, and pushed one towards Envy. “Milk or sugar?”

“No, thank you.”

The woman took a peanut butter cookie, which looked homemade, off the matching porcelain plate, and handed it silently to the child. Envy could not tell if the child, in a yellow t-shirt and denim overalls, with long hair and skin as fine and pale as the porcelain saucer, was a boy or a girl.

They were in the woman’s apartment. It was small but tidy, and they sat at one end of a rectangular, polished maple dining table. At the other end there was a large white sewing machine, beside banks of thread, attached to a Sony notebook computer. Instead of a sideboard there was a long open credenza, full of neatly stacked fabrics and fabric covered boxes. A length of deep blue silk was draped over the back of a dining chair.

“How can I help you?” the woman asked.

“I feel like my world is ending, I’m completely lost,” Envy said bluntly. “My personal, social, work, and family life is, well…” and she mouthed the word “fucked”, out of respect for tender ears.

“I see,” said Mrs Calabash. Envy had the feeling that she really could see. That was why she was there, in the apartment, on a Thursday evening when she should have been at bridge classes, which she was only taking to please Marcus, though she didn’t know, most of the time, why she bothered, especially after their giant row on the Alaska cruise. Marcus, for all his forays into their household finances, had a only a slim grasp of the concept of insurance, and had not forgiven her for throwing the bracelet overboard. She did not enlighten him. It felt good, for some reason, to be unforgiven by Marcus.

“Have you heard the expression,” said Mrs Calabash. “about ‘assume’?”

“That it makes an ass of u and me?” Envy said uncertainly, recalling perhaps a corporate poster, somewhere, some time out of memory.

“Right,” said Mrs Calabash. Then she paused. She stared into Envy’s eyes, and Envy tried to hold the gaze, but Mrs Calabash’s pale blue eyes belied the intensity of her stare and Envy found herself looking away. Her eyes rested on the child, who was now crushing a ping pong ball with the bucket. It made a brittle, crackling sound, which was a little unpleasant.

“I don’t understand what I see,” Mrs Calabash said unapologetically. “I rarely do. But I will tell you.”

“Please do,” said Envy.

“Learn to fly,” said the woman. “It could save your life.”

“What?” said Envy.

“I see jewels raining down on you,” Mrs Calabash continued. “Bright against the sky, like millions of falling stars.”

She was still looking into Envy’s eyes.

“I see a child, hiding in shame,” she said. “Crying. Laughing. Crying.”

The child on the floor looked up, but had been well-trained not to interrupt, for he or she said nothing.

Mrs Calabash fell silent then. She looked out the window for a moment, at the cars pausing at the stop sign on the corner, then inching forward in the rain. “That’s all,” she said.

“Hmm,” said Envy.

Mrs Calabash would not accept money for the visit, so Envy took a ballpoint pen she had in a zippered compartment of her purse. It was a novelty pen; you could click a button and change the colour of the ink, from blue to red, and back again. She showed Mrs Calabash, raising her eyebrows in query, and Mrs Calabash nodded. Envy handed the pen to the child, who took it and smiled.

Envy started the car, and turned off the radio so she could drive home with just the sound of the windshield wipers. It was the most soothing sound she knew, and she often took drives in the rain to calm herself, to empty her mind and find a few moments of peace.

A week later, as she stared at the remains of her house, she realized that Mrs Calabash had prophesied all that happened.

Don’t assume. Don’t assume that Marcus knows nothing about insurance. The house and contents were insured, by Marcus, for close to 2 million dollars.

Learn to fly. Their bedroom was on the second level. Marcus was late, much later than he had promised. She had wondered whether he would come to bed, or sleep in the guest room. She dozed fitfully, and had troublesome half-dreams, and when the smoke oozed into the room from under the closed door, she realized she could not escape into the hallway. She went to the balcony, where, because she was unable to fly, she climbed over the railing and hung over the lawn in the back yard, and when she saw flames she let go.

Jewels raining down. She crawled to the front of the house, feeling no pain from the fall, not yet, and a neighbour ran to her and told her the fire trucks were on their way, and Envy could hear them in the distance. She looked up at her beautiful home, engulfed in flames, embers falling from the night sky like a million stars.

A child crying. Marcus thought she might die. Envy didn’t know why she didn’t die; it was only that she was uneasy, and couldn’t drift off to sleep, so she was alert enough to see and smell the smoke. It was likely Marcus had cried as he set the fire, since he wasn’t a monster, not really, and maybe laughed, thinking of the windfall he was about to receive. But when he saw her at the hospital, still in a wheeled bed in the hallway, waiting for her leg to be set, he cried in breathless gulps.

Marcus was not a monster, nor was he a brilliant mastermind. It was shockingly easy to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and he found himself facing more serious criminal charges than he had ever foreseen.

Envy learned to get around on crutches, but was not able to get in the car and drive. She was not able to find whatever peace or comfort the sound of the wipers in the rain offered. Her closest friend was away. Her therapist seemed like an irrelevant stranger. Her parents were stunned into incomprehension. She found herself sitting in a taxicab outside a small, stucco and wood-sided apartment building, with a child’s wooden puzzle, wrapped in yellow paper, clutched in her hands.

 


Voyage

Prompt: Voyage

portrait of a young woman

Oh, what a journey!

Everything smelled horrible and I couldn’t eat the food. It was foul. But when I could, I went up on deck where the air was a little fresher, though the smoke from the smokestacks often settled over us, dropping black ash into our lungs.

I was little, so I could get up there even when it was crowded. Unless the ship was storm-tossed, I would stay up top in the rain, underneath a box that was full of ropes (I looked). It was better than being crammed together belowdecks.

My mother dressed me like a boy, because she thought I would be safer. But you might be surprised how many men want to be with boys. And no particular nationality, either. I knew how to look after myself, though, I was pretty smart for a kid.

My mother had a boyfriend on the ship, though she didn’t think I knew. It was such a long, boring, unpleasant, filthy voyage that my mother welcomed this man, with his jokes and and the way he always had sugar cubes in his pocket, like a stableboy. My mother had a sweet tooth, and those sugar cubes were the closest thing to candy she was going to get.

Sometimes at night, when they thought I was asleep, they snuggled together.

One time I made it up to second class. This was very hard, unless you were half-monkey, like me, at least my mother said so. I could climb anything. I had my cleanest boy clothes on, so didn’t smell too terrible, and I climbed up through the inflated life boats closest to the steerage deck, and made my way by ladder to the crews’ quarters, where it was easy to slip onto the second class deck.

It was pretty nice up there. People weren’t vomiting or covered in ash, or making love in dark dirty corners that smelled like pee.

I even got to meet the captain. A very pretty lady, about my mother’s age, saw me crying as I clung to the railing, breathing in the sea air. I forget why I was crying. When she asked me what was wrong I said I lost my mommy and daddy– I used those words– and she gave me a hug and said, “Well I know the captain, and he can find your parents for you.”

Meanwhile, she bought me some ice cream. Wow!

The captain quickly determined that I was steerage, that I (my mother) had only paid $30 for my passage, that I was not lost but an overly-curious girl dressed as a boy.

The captain was old, I remember that, but I mostly remember that he had a cat, whose fur was the same grey colour as the captain’s beard. He said the cat killed vermin. I asked if I could take the cat back to steerage with me. He didn’t laugh, and neither did the lady.

My mother told me my father would be waiting for us, once we docked and cleared inspection. I didn’t remember my father, not one bit, so I wasn’t sure how to feel.

I wondered how my mother would clean us up, how she would wash away the voyage, with its smells and indiscretions and adventures, and if my father would love me, or even know me. I told my mother that perhaps I could stay a boy, since fathers liked boys better. And it was easier being a boy. People left me alone as a boy, I could play where and how I wanted.

My mother kissed me and said no, and my journey ended.