Smoke

Prompt: Dramatic

night bird

Until that moment, panic had turned me to ice. But the touch of his hand on my skin was the lick of a blowtorch and I felt its heat, suddenly, shockingly. Something stirred in a place I thought had died. I felt, as if for the first time, my own breathing, sharp and hot.

Smoke curled out of his nose and drifted towards the ceiling fan like the ghosts of small birds.

The fan spun slowly, each rotation clicking softly, the only sound in a deathly silence.

He inhaled again in the darkness, silhouetted against a grey window. He thought I was still dead as he leaned over me, pressing his lips against mine and forcing the ghostly birds into my mouth. When I felt his tongue scorch the back of my throat, I bit down, hard.

As his screams broke the silence, I floated to the window, spread my wings, and flew away.

 


The Enemy

Prompt: Admire

white-knight

I had to admire Carl. What he did amounted to adultery– I suppose it was adultery plain and simple– yet he had the courage to leave me and set up a household with Robert. For Robert, it took even more of a leap of faith, since his wife was pregnant at the time of their return from their last tour, so he was leaving an infant daughter. Beth would hardly call his leaving an act of courage– more like cowardly, craven, selfish, and cruel.

It turned out that I was thrilled when Carl decided to leave my house and my bed; like too many abandoned spouses, I was secretly relieved and wondered how Robert would cope with his pickiness, his impossible standards, and his constant demands. Good luck, Robert, I said to myself, smugly. I am not saying I didn’t love Carl when we got wed. I did. But either Carl changed, or I did, or we both did.

Beth never enjoyed Robert’s occasional meanness or his temper, but they shared a dream of home, family, military advancement, travel, success. He promised upside down and sideways to support the new baby, whom they named Deborah, both financially and physically, but Beth felt this commitment was far from solid as his visits dwindled to four times a week to twice a week. “She’s nursing,” Robert said, a valid point. Beth grumbled and fretted, fearing a future as a single mother, which was far from the fantasy she had nursed for twenty-five years.

I completely enjoyed my solitude. I could walk around the house with unwashed hair, leave dishes in the sink, wear a silk blouse with jeans, swear, laugh too loud, stay up late… It was heaven. Of course I missed Carl in some ways, but if I tallied up the pros and cons either way, solitude was a solid winner.

Beth looked weary of life when I visited her and the new baby. Of course it was a lot of work, especially on one’s own, and I tried to help when I could. I manipulated Carl and Robert to babysit late into the night one Saturday while Beth and I tried to enjoy a night out. She felt her status as new mother was stamped on her forehead and that no man would find her attractive. I told her not to worry, let’s just have a few drinks and dances and have fun. She tried and failed. I tried and succeeded. Such was life.

And then she met Roman, a retired Colonel, a widower, financially comfortable, handsome in a James Brolin kind of way, a sucker for a pretty face, and raised to believe that a white knight was the highest and truest manifestation of manhood.

Beth wouldn’t tell me how she really felt about him. But she sparkled in his presence, praised him lavishly for the way he held little Deborah in his arms, and was close to tears at every kindness he showed as if such gestures were previously unknown in her world.

Robert, in the middle of settling down with a new partner, found Roman more than a distraction. His emotions and attentions fluctuated, from catering to Carl and a new relationship,  and criticizing and attempting to undermine Roman. He found there was not enough time for both.

He chose, much to my surprise, to make Roman his enemy.

Make Music Like Mercy

Prompt: Wind

wind vane silhouette

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


Pain is a pesky part of being human, I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart, something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here. Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped. But then I have also learned that because of pain, I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing. Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart. But then healing feels like the wind against your face when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air! We may not have wings growing out of our backs, but healing is the closest thing that will give us that wind against our faces.

C. JoyBell C.


and half of learning to play is learning what not to play

and she’s learning the spaces she leaves have their own things to say

and she’s trying to sing just enough so that the air around her moves

and make music like mercy that gives what it is and has nothing to prove

she crawls out on a limb and begins to build her home

and it’s enough just to look around and to know that she’s not alone

up up up up up up up points the spire of the steeple

but god’s work isn’t done by god

it’s done by people

Ani DiFra


Unstoppable

Prompt: Unstoppable

megality

Kimberly Bak was having second thoughts. It’s normal to have second thoughts, her mother told her when she tried to broach the subject on the weekend. The wedding megalith had started its unstoppable journey towards the union of Kimberly Nuance Bak and Harrison Albert Pepper.

The secret service had been to the house and searched the grounds, and even installed a few security cameras, because the wife of a President of the United States was attending, along with her daughter and son-in-law. You could hardly have the feds poking around your home and asking questions of your staff, and then call the whole thing off.

The marquees, and wooden dance floor, and bunting and garlands were all set up on the back lawn. Invitations had been send and responded to. Gifts were set up on display in the downstairs guest room. Kimberley’s wedding dress had been altered, received, gently pressed and hung in her closet. The caterers had left crates of plates, utensils and decorations in the kitchen foyer. The band and the photographers had sent confirmation messages. Harrison Pepper had sponsored Kimberly’s father’s membership application to the golf club.

She had hinted to her mother that she wanted to tell Harrison about the baby.

“There is no— was no— baby,” said Kelly Bak.

“I don’t regret it,” Kimberly said slowly. “But I feel bad about it.”

“You are a sweet child,” said her mother. “And were a child when you got pregnant.” She pushed Kimberley’s chestnut hair off her face. “There is no need to mention it to Harrison. I’m sure he has a few skeletons in his closet.”

“I don’t want to know,” said Kimberly.

“And I’m sure he feels the same way.”

But Kimberly wanted to tell him anyway. If he was offended or horrified, and called off the wedding, well, she would feel relieved. She was pretty sure she would feel relieved. What she liked most about Harrison was the sex, followed by his sense of humour and his ease with people, his skill at anything he put his hand to, and his respect for her parents.

She just wasn’t sure that she loved him.

The Hummingbird Man

Prompt: Sanctuary

Pelicans-with-Andrew-Klaver

Cash had heard that migratory birds sometimes stopped on Brasseux Lake on their way south; unusual birds for the region, like pelicans. He had never seen a pelican outside a zoo, and was fascinated by their prehistoric appearance, so getting a good shot of a pelican was his quest for this day. Failing that, he knew where the hummingbird sanctuary was, and could probably get a good freeze frame of hummingbird wings, if the camera was working properly,

He didn’t know if it was or not. It was an old Nikon SLR that his sister had given him for his 20th birthday, and with which he’d taken a photograph of his dog jumping up from a green lake to catch a tennis ball. Quite a dynamic action shot, and every droplet and strand of hair was in sharp, perfect focus. It was however, as much as everyone admired Cash for its capture, composition, and clarity, a complete accident.

He hoped for a similar accident today, to prove to his sister that he wasn’t completely useless. He would enter it in the Wildlife Federation contest and win something, and Envy might then get off his back.

She was probably expending all the pent-up nagging that she hadn’t used towards Marcus, and all the pent-up anger, too, pushed down so deep that it was now explosive. Cash didn’t appreciate being the recipient, or having her bad-mouth him to his wife (one of her closest friends), or pass judgement on his misadventures. He would demonstrate to her that he was serious, creative, and artistic, even if he wasn’t. At all. None of the above.

There were no pelicans to be seen, and Cash grew impatient. He wandered over to the hummingbird garden, where trumpet vines and lilies clustered around colourful but abandoned plastic feeders hung from low branches of the Russian olive trees. Beyond the trees, near a rocky shore, he saw an older man and kid, and wondered if they had frightened all the hummingbirds away. But no— Cash approached them, then stopped. The hummingbirds were feeding from a plastic red and yellow flower cluster that the old man held out in his hand.

They swarmed around him. They ignored the boy, who stood very still, and took their turns at the feeder, then fluttered away, and perhaps fluttered back.

Cash raised his camera and took twenty or so exposures in quick succession, then crouched down so the two men and the hummingbirds were framed by the flickering silver spear-like leaves of the olive tree. And more shots, when he crept a little closer. A close up of the man’s face. A close up of the boy, who looked to be about sixteen, and who stood as motionless as a wax statue.

Cash then took a step forward, and was noticed, and the hummingbirds flitted away.

“Incredible,” said Cash amiably, as he joined them on the rocky beach. “Sorry I scared them away, but I got some good shots.” He held up the old Nikon.

The old man and boy were startled, but the old guy held out his hand. “I’m Bernard, and this is my grandson, Andrew.”

“Cash.” He took the offered hand and found the old man had a firm and steady grip. The boy stood unsmiling and motionless, still.

“You took pictures?” asked the man.

“Yes! Incredible. I never saw anything like this. How did you do it? I should get a winner or two out of this roll.”

“Unfortunately, I would rather you didn’t use the pictures of me and my grandson.”

“I’ll pay you,” said Cash. A wrong move, because the old man frowned. “Sorry. I mean I won’t use them without your permission.”

“Good,” said Bernard. He took a card out of his jacket pocket. On it was printed his name, address and telephone number. Scrawled across the bottom in ballpoint pen was an email address. “Call me, ok, Cash?”

“Will do,” said Cash, puzzled, and he watched them hike back up to the road where they got into a yellow taxi cab. It skidded on the gravel a little, before reaching the highway and disappearing into the distance.

Cash debated whether or not to wait for the pelicans. But he couldn’t erase the image from his mind, as if it was already a photograph, developed and printed, of an old man surrounded by hummingbirds. He wanted to see the pictures he took. He wanted to see the old man’s face again. And the boy’s face too: so still, so focused, so enraptured. Incredible.