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


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


Prompt: Unstoppable


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


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.


High Five

Prompt: Clock

scrambled eggs

Jeremy’s bedroom was beside the kitchen, and he heard someone in there, rattling around, opening and closing the fridge, running the tap, getting dishes and cutlery. It wasn’t as if they were trying to be noisy, but Jeremy looked at the clock: it was 6:30 in the morning. This was one of the rare days when he didn’t have to be at work until four that afternoon, so he was a bit peeved. But not a lot peeved, because he knew that the person in the kitchen was Xavier, and that he was getting breakfast for Jeremy’s father.

It had only been a week since Xavier had been sleeping on their couch, but everyone’s routine had changed, and the rhythms of the household were disrupted, for better or worse. Xavier wanted to help, and did. Jeremy’s dad liked to get up early in the morning, but was slow and sullen and usually waited until he heard Jeremy was up, before arising and  joining him and settling in with his list of discomforts and displeasures. But Xavier rose early and made his father eggs, toast, and cut-up fruit every morning. It was aromatic and irresistible, and ready when Jeremy’s father emerged in his dressing gown.

Jeremy’s father didn’t exactly thank Xavier, in fact he was perfunctory in pointing out his preferences. Runny yolk. Dark toast. No citrus fruit. But he ate it all, seated at the kitchen table, then put his dish in the sink and went into the living room, where he sat in his chair and turned on the television.

A little later on Xavier would fetch the newspaper from the hall, and set it on the side table beside his chair. No thank you’s, but no searing, vitriolic, unprovoked take-downs, either. Those were still reserved for Jeremy.

It was Xavier who now prepared Jeremy’s father’s dinner, covered it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to be microwaved later, when both Xavier and Jeremy were at work. Xavier did the laundry on Monday, and ironed and folded the shirts, including Jeremy’s white airline shirts.

Jeremy had to boot Xavier out— just for the day— on Tuesday, because he was working too much. He looked pale. He’d become too quiet. He hadn’t seen any of his friends. Jeremy ordered him to go out and have some fun. Xavier seemed reluctant. “The couch will be here when you get back,” Jeremy said. He gave Xavier twenty dollars, which he tried to refuse.

On this morning, Jeremy sighed, dragged himself out of bed and padded into the kitchen. Xavier was scrambling eggs in a cast iron pan. “Plain,” Jeremy said. “He doesn’t like cheese or tomato in it.”

“Ok,” said Xavier.

His father appeared in the doorway, in his plaid flannel dressing gown, his thinning hair uncombed. He glanced at Jeremy, who wore only cotton pajama bottoms and no slippers. “Put some goddamn clothes on,” he said.

“Some apple juice, Mr Connor?” asked Xavier. “Jeremy, you are wanting some juice and breakfast?”

“No, thanks,” said Jeremy. “I’m going back to bed in a minute.”

“Oh! Sorry!” said Xavier. “I forgot.”

“No problem, just remember next Thursday.”

Xavier blinked, slightly smiled, and said nothing, but Jeremy could read his mind as if his thoughts appears on sign above his head. Next Thursday? I will still be here next Thursday! Thank you God! And Jeremy! Where was a very young, illegal immigrant going to live, on the wages Xavier earned as a busboy?

“I was wondering,” said Jeremy, “what you–” he turned to his father– “and Xavier would think about having him stay here full-time.”

“Wow,” said Xavier.

“What for?” said his father.

“To partly take care of you, and this place,” said Jeremy.

“Impossible,” said his father. “I can’t pay him, you certainly can’t, and there is no room. Forget it. Go back to bed.”

“I could clean out the den. We don’t use it, it’s just full of boxes that haven’t been opened in years.”

“It’s too small,” snarled Mr Connor.

“It’s fine,” said Jeremy. “Xavier, it’s true I couldn’t afford to pay you much, but you would have room and board, and lots of free time.”

His father poked at the plate of scrambled eggs Xavier had just placed before him, and said, “Salt.”

“Of course a lot depends on if you can abide my father’s rudeness, bad manners, bigotry, and evil temper,” said Jeremy.

“Watch your disgusting mouth,” said his father.

“Sorry,” said Jeremy, and smiled secretly at Xavier, who smiled back. There was something about sharing the pain of his relationship with his father that somehow made it more bearable.

“I would say, yes,” said Xavier. “To the question. I can do more. I can take your father out.”

“I am sitting right here,” Mr Connor said. “And I’m not a dog. And who says I want to be seen with a wetback in public anyway?”

“Nice try, dad, but that’s only about a 4 on a scale of 10.”

“Fuck you.”

“Are you sure, Xavier?”

“I am sure.”


“I have no say, do what you want, don’t expect me to pay for it,” said his father. “Or like it.”

“It would be nice if you gave your notice at the restaurant in person,” said Jeremy. “They may want you to work a week or so yet, but maybe not. It would be better if you don’t, since those freaks know where to find you.”

“What freaks?” said Mr Connor.

“Your favourite kind,” said Jeremy. “Religious bigots.”

Mr Connor pushed his chair back from the kitchen table and stood up. “Better a religious bigot than a hypocrite faggot,” he said. He shuffled into the living room and turned on the television.

Xavier and Jeremy high-fived, in silence, then Jeremy went back to bed.


Prompt: Punishment

conditions of the heart poster

Cash picked me up at my apartment and drove me to the doctor, which was nice of him since even a cab would have been awkward for me. I still couldn’t bend my left leg, and managing crutches for me was like trying to drive a standard instead of an automatic car: I was simply inept. So getting in and out of vehicles was a drawn-out pageant of flailing arms and legs, clothes riding up and revealing pasty white skin, and a lot of cursing.

“Maybe some kind of wheelchair would have been better for you,” Cash said seriously, as he merged into traffic on the highway.

“Really?” I was grumpy, still trying to do up the seatbelt. “That’s ridiculous. People with broken legs get the crutches. They are made to suffer. People with broken legs are lesser humans. No one cares.”

Cash had the grace to smile. “Is this just a check up? Or is there…?”

“Just discussing prescriptions,” I said. “I think I need more trippy pain killers.”

“Well I have some Oxy at home, if you need,” said Cash.

“Of course you do,” I said. He was immune to my bad humour, just as he had been when we were children. I could silence him, I could wipe a smile off his face, but affecting his worldview, that everything was actually ok and people always liked him, was an impossible task. He was teflon. His idiotic pranks in college were looked upon with indulgence, because Cash seemed to have no ill will. I sometimes thought he was an idiot, an actual idiot, but then I guess sisters sometimes felt that way about younger brothers. Didn’t they?

“Hello, Envy,” said Stuart, one of the nurses in the practice, when I entered the waiting room and triggered a tinkling bell. He was always super friendly with me. Probably to everyone. I was flushed from my journey from the car to the elevator to the third floor– flushed as in blotchy of face and out of breath, and Stuart smiled as if this discombobulation was charming in some way. Cash had helped me out of the car but elected to wait in the parking lot, as he didn’t like clinics, hospitals, or anywhere that smelled generically, antiseptically clean. It was a thing with him.

Stuart was leaning over the receptionist, Jodi, as they gazed at something on the computer screen, but after saying hello he plucked a file from a wire rack and motioned to me. “Come on through, Envy, I’ll help you get settled.”

“You are looking well,” he lied. He helped me sit in a leather chair next to a small desk with a computer, across from a raised cot covered in a layer of paper. Posters of internal organs and bone structure graced the walls like fine art.

“You too,” I said. I wondered if Stuart was potential dating material. I was so unused to meeting and dating men since Marcus that I might even consider Jodi, the receptionist. I had no idea who I was anymore. I wondered if I should flirt. And where I could find information on how to flirt, since I was pretty sure I had never learned how. Marcus and I found each other. He didn’t mind my lack of artifice, and I loved his effortless charm. Damn him, anyway.

Virginia told me, “Just heal, don’t even think about Marcus anymore, or being alone, or the divorce.” She meant well, but jeez.

While Dr Chao took my blood pressure I told him I was thinking of getting back into Catholicism.

“Oh?” he said. “Nice. Your BP is a tad high, but we’ll put that down to doctor-visit stress.”

“Well ok. Are you married, Dr Chao?” I had to start somewhere.

He looked only slightly startled. “Yes, yes I am. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just that you know then, what it’s like, you know, to have a partner.”

He patted my hand with summoned sympathy. “Marcus let you down. It takes time to recover from that, as much as it does from your broken body.”

He meant well too, but holy shit, did no one know how to comfort a person any more?

“I am still in pain, especially overnight,” I told him.

“Sometimes we build a tolerance to certain medications,” said Dr Chao. “Let’s try something else.”

It was as simple as that. I struggled back downstairs, after smiling at Stuart in what I imagined was a flirtatious way, which only caused him to look utterly bewildered.

Cash was leaning against the car, chatting on the phone. In another few minutes I was flushed and grumpy again, but seated and belted up.

“You’ve had enough punishment for one day,” Cash said as he started the engine. “Feel like a martini?”

A martini! Who would have expected Cash, of all people, to understand the concept of meaningful comfort?

Impossible Patterns

Prompt: Slowly


Hilda and Zach walked through the aquarium tunnel slowly, as if they were in a wedding march. Hilda did not smoke any pot beforehand, because she had to look after Zach, so it was not exactly the birthday experience she was looking for.

Zach was silenced by the spectacle of the shimmering blue water and the schools of fish, and that was ok with Hilda. She was glad his leftover high was not a chatty one, because for sure, she would have punched him if he told her his thoughts one more time, as if they were unique and more important than her own.

Zach didn’t mean anything by it, Hilda knew. It was the nature of some highs. They turned you inside out.

But walking through the aqua-light aquarium tunnel, sober, Hilda was herself filled with light, and wished she was in the space alone, without holding Zach’s hand, or listening to the chatter of the children on a school excursion.

So there were glimmering, silver schools of fish, darting in impossible, exquisite patterns, and school children awakened for the first time to something outside their experience and bursting to express themselves, and Hilda, searching in earnest for a connection and almost missing it, because she was slow to realize that there was no harmony to be found if you isolated yourself from the tangible world that surrounded you.

Their slow wedding-march through the aquarium tunnel did not lead anywhere. That was good too, and Zach would get it, because he was still high.

Hilda, newly awakened, understood it, too.