Sugar Bunny

Prompt: Smoke


We were making cupcakes again. This time there would be no sabotage or bullying while Lily was watching daytime TV. Isabella could put whatever stupid designs on her icing that she wanted. I wouldn’t say a word.

Our tools for icing the cupcakes were pâté knives, spoons, tiny paintbrushes, two tubs of store-bought icing, one chocolate and one lemon, and a bottle of red food colouring. “Be careful with that,” Lily told us. “Don’t make a mess.”

While we waited for the cupcakes to cool, Lily dumped the icing into two bowls for us to stir up so it would be nice and soft and smooth for frosting the cakes.

Isabella absently sang a sing-songy little verse as she stirred the lemon icing with a wooden spoon:

If you love me, show me
Show me that you want to know me
If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey
Show me that you love me
Put no one else above me.

I said, “What is that song?”

She said, “I don’t know.”

“Is it a record?” I asked.

“I forget,” said Isabella.

What was left of the chocolate icing I had been stirring was carefully spread on the top of half of Bella’s cupcakes, and half of mine, the last one a little scant. I used the spoon to put yellow polka dots on the chocolate. There was a lot more lemon icing left, but only because Isabella didn’t like it as much as I liked chocolate.

We dipped our brushes into the bottle of red food colouring and painted animals and faces on the yellow cupcakes. It would have made a mess if Lily hadn’t put newspaper down all over the island counter.

“This tastes like strawberry,” Isabella said, touching the red-soaked brush to her tongue.

“It does?” I picked it up and took a sip. It didn’t. Even at that age, I had a better palate than Bella.

Just then smoke started seeping out of the oven, a natural occurrence since some of the cake batter had spilled to the oven floor, and Lily hadn’t turned it off  before she returned to General Hospital.

“Fire!” I said. I was teasing Isabella, but she grabbed the food colouring from my hand, opened the oven door, and emptied the bottle– probably less than an ounce– onto the bottom of the oven, on her overalls, and on the floor. A little of that stuff went a long way.

“Uh-oh,” I said, as I heard our mother coming in through the back door.

Her scream brought Lily back into the smoky kitchen, where she saw two little girls, one who looked like she had vomited blood all over the other one, and spots of blood all over the floor and walls. My mother was near hysterical, until Lily took the empty bottle of food colouring from Isabella’s hand.

“You are definitely fired this time!” my mother said to Lily.

Lily turned off the oven, opened the kitchen window to let the smoke escape, took my and Isabella’s hands, and led us to the upstairs bathroom. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” she said.

Isabella sang as Lily stood us in a tub full of soapy water and scrubbed us with a loofa:

If you’re troubled go to me
Darling, don’t say no to me
Be my little sugar bunny
Be true to me, your only honey.


Prompt: Eclipse

Illustration of Ancient Peruvians Worshipping the Eclipse

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.

–Victor Hugo, poet, author, and dramatist


I bet a fun thing would be to go way back in time to where there was going to be an eclipse and tell the cave men, “If I have come to destroy you, may the sun be blotted out from the sky.” Just then the eclipse would start, and they’d probably try to kill you or something, but then you could explain about the rotation of the moon and all, and everyone would get a good laugh.

–Jack Handy, comedian


In a way, staring into a computer screen is like staring into an eclipse. It’s brilliant and you don’t realize the damage until its too late.

–Bruce Sterling, author


  • Image: Ancient Peruvians Worshipping the Eclipse, Leonard de Selva, Corbis

Roman Summer

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


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.

You Are Invited

Prompt: Stairway

Invitation Bak wedding

Dear Pat,

Here it is, the official invitation. My-oh-my, this whole thing took quite a lot of planning and negotiation. We could have used your husband’s diplomatic skills! Which I always felt were underrated.

In any case, I completely understand if you are unable to attend, with everything that is going on with Richard. It is perfectly fine. We completely understand that now is not a good time to draw attention to Julie as a bridesmaid. Kimberly totally understands.

You will see the wedding photographs after the fact, but as a friend of the family maybe you’ll let me share the moments we have been planning. Your input is always welcome.

Kimmy has been stubborn about her gown and the flowers; otherwise she has let me and my staff have our way with venues, guest list, menus, and decorations. Kimmy jokes that she didn’t even have a say as to the groom, but of course she loves her drama. And she loves to joke around. Harrison is perfect for her; he initially swept her off her feet with his intelligence, ambition, refinement, and experience. I believe he will take good care of her.

She chose a Mediterranean blue silk gown for the ceremony. It was, Pat, the opposite of the white lace and beaded gown I had envisioned for her. Who ever heard of a deep blue, sleeveless wedding dress? And instead of the white and green roses I had already sourced, Kimmy selected white and pale lilac for her bouquet. I was unhappy about these choices, but she was adamant. A mother can only do so much.

We’ll have the reception at the Lake House. Thank you for recommending Figure of Peach for the caterers. They will provide a wonderful diversity of tastes, which is perfect since many of Kimmy’s college friends will be in attendance.

Kimberly modelled her wedding dress for her father and me. She stood at the top of the stairway. I saw shimmering, hypnotic blue and firm, healthy flesh–  sacred somehow, and indescribably beautiful.

I felt a little breathless. I wondered if anyone was truly worthy of this child of mine.

Your sincere friend,
Kelly Bak


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.


The Birthday Lunch

Prompt: Newspaper


Paula did not show up at the office for lunch yesterday, the big birthday lunch, so we left a note for her on her desk, telling her to meet us at Pancho’s when she got back, and just Martin and I set out in his dusty old Volvo. It was a pleasant drive along the highway, even at that time of year when leaves have changed and dropped to the ground. I loved the sight of the rows and rows of vines that make up the many vineyards, as neat and orderly as dreadlocks.

Pancho’s was crowded. We were given a tiny little table around the corner behind a post. Martin put on a show of ordering a pitcher of Margueritas, this being such a major occasion, and with our first sip we toasted ourselves and Paula, the missing birthday girl.

Martin was usually a shy and earnest man; not tall, he reached only to my nose. He had a rumpled, distracted quality about him, wore muted clothing and was always “calm, cool and collected”. Paula was constantly trying to dream up schemes to rattle his world. As for me, I thought having the man named Richard you hired to do a job, suddenly turning up as a woman named Rachel, and then back to a man again, and being thusly unpredictable, was enough of a scheme to rattle his world. If he was cool and steady through that—which he was—I felt it was doubtful a girlish scheme of Paula’s could rouse him.

Martin’s wife Cynthia was small and grey but a firecracker— a town counsellor in her second term, head of the Pewaska Arts Council, and owner of Crumples, the used book store in town. They had no children but several pets on their acre of land just in town, including two horses, a donkey, two dogs, and several cockatiels and cats. My own companion Junebug was of that hardy farm stock (turned soft by city living).

I was wearing a deep blue turtleneck sweater, made of actual wool and not cotton, and it was a perfect fit, indicating there were bumps on the chest but of an undetermined size and shape. Yes, I had taken to wearing my bra. Women have more than one bra at a time, I assumed. I only had the one, but ordered two more online. They were pricey but a necessity, and only available to me, as I mentioned to you, in a custom size. My hair was tied behind as usual, not very elegant but kept it out of my eyes, which I hated when I was working. For the occasion I had even dabbed on a bit of powder, to even my skin tones, to go along with the mascara and some lightly tinted Chapstick.

But I was hardly a vision. It was enough for me to be a woman; it was not essential to be a beautiful woman, though of course I would have loved it. It was a cruel dream, since there are so few physically beautiful women in the world, making an almost impossible goal. How women deal with this for years on end, I had no idea.

The Margueritas were such a delicious blend of Tequila and lime juice, and I even adored the salt around the rim, and they did wash down my blurry plate of Mexican food rather nicely, that plate of greyish beans and wraps which made the dollop of sour cream shine white and bright, and the red of the pico de gallo pop on the plate. By the end the first pitcher, I had already spoken to Martin about flexible hours. I put my case forward and he listened intently, nodding, then had the graciousness to look alarmed when I told him about my apartment and about Carl, Mr and Mrs Lipinski’s bully boy son. I had no intention of sharing this kind of personal information with Martin. He was naturally aloof and I had no desire to complicate a comfortable working arrangement. I suppose the Tequila, the truth drug, had me talking more than I meant to. I wasn’t, however, the only one on whom the truth drug had an effect.

Martin tipped his little stemmed glass full back to get the last drop of the Marguerita, then called over the server and ordered another pitcher. “I think flexible hours would work, as long as you weren’t alone there overnight, and what’s more, I’ll give you a raise.”

Well if it hadn’t seemed so absurd, I would have thought Martin cared about me— Rachel.
How kind of him to feel indignant about the evil Carl. And was he demonstrating a masculine concern for the safety of a female employee (me!) alone overnight at the work place? I could have kissed him, then and there. And a raise? Where did this Martin come from, and what did you do with the other one?

Which, as it happens, is what I asked half way into the second pitcher. Martin’s response? “I left him at the office.” Not spoken as much as slurred. He was filling my glass, much of the liquid splashing onto the tablecloth, which was sodden already. And he leaned over the table and said in a slightly unclear, conspiratorial voice:

“You are soooo wonderful.”

I assumed his vision must be as blurred as mine, to have that silly smile on his face and that… look in his eye. I told him he maybe had too much to drink, maybe. The thought of which caused my confidence to drop a level, since I now started to doubt the veracity and sincerity of everything that he had said before. But it was at this moment he put his hand on mine and then he, or the Tequila, started to sing:

I get no kick from champagne
Mere alcohol doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you…

…or words similar. To see Martin the Serene, Martin the Mouse, Martin the Boss, Martin Almost-the-Father-Figure let loose in this manner was disconcerting, to say the least.

The server came by towards the end of the performance and provided a little applause, and asked if we would like another pitcher.

“Yes,” said Martin.
“No,” said I. And I caught her eye and shook my head vigorously.
Martin then told me how much he admired me, how brave I was. How he watched me as I worked in my little cubicle. How he liked the way I put my Chapstick on, using the mirror in the powder compact. What beautiful eyes I had. …How lonely he was.

I just laughed in a way I hoped sounded very casual, and shook my head, not wanting to insult him by reminding him again that he was drunk, but not wanting to acknowledge his statements either. And not wanting to actually laugh out loud. I felt a fit of giggles coming on.

“It’s NOT the Tequila…” he insisted, and he squeezed my hand.

I was a larger person than Martin, and maybe that’s why the drink had made him so insistent and passionate and out of control, while I just had the kind of buzz that put a ridiculous grin on my face and made me think about lying in a hammock.

I looked at my watch and told Martin we had to get back, and he lurched to his feet. Of course at that moment I realized that he definitely could not drive, and I had enough alcohol in my own system to think that I could. Fortunately, just as we were stumbling towards the car, our saviour, in the form of Paula, zoomed into the lot in her little Honda. Paula drove us both home, leaving Martin’s car in Pancho’s parking lot, to be retrieved later.

It was far less pleasant than the ride down to the restaurant. For one thing, Martin had been violently ill in the shrubbery flanking the parking lot. At least he was ill before and not during the trip home, I thought. But the car reeked of vomit so Paula and I had our windows down, getting blasted with cold November air. Paula had put Martin in the back where he could do the least harm. But he sat behind me, and he strained against the seat belt (which Paula and I had fastened for him), putting his hand on the back of my seat and attempting to flirt with me. He started to sing again but lost his way… then he started talking about my eyes again. It was that kind of a drive home.

Paula was very quiet. Her silence made me feel mortified and embarrassed, as if I had somehow provoked or encouraged Martin’s behaviour, which of course I had not. When Martin suddenly went quiet and seemed to be asleep, I said in a low voice… “Wow, Paula, did you see that coming? He will feel like a right idiot in the morning.” I laughed but Paula only smiled quietly.

She dropped us at our respective homes, stopping at my place first. I was concerned about her getting the inert Martin out of the car and into his house, but she waved me off.

“Happy Birthday,” she said. “And you,” said I.

I actually did pass out, I suppose, when I got inside my little basement suite. And this morning, I had a tremendous headache and thirst.

Maybe Martin will remember nothing. Maybe he’ll be contrite and a little worried, afraid to ask what he said or did. Tequila does strange things. For a man to find me, Rachel, desirable, was probably the strangest thing of all to me.


  • Excerpt from a Nanowrimo novel.

Round and Round

Prompt: Contrast

This is a first chapter of a Nanowrimo novel.

cat sprinkles

My father meant to kidnap my sister, not me. It was an honest mistake I suppose; we were identical twins, and even my mother had some difficulty telling us apart. Only our temperaments could give us away. Me, living up (or down) to my unruly mass of red hair, stubborn and angry, and Isabella, the “good” one, calmer and quieter.

He must have caught me in a rare moment of quiet and meditation. I call it meditation now, but as a child it was a kind of trance– seeing in my mind’s eye a pair of dancers spinning round and round, round and round.

On that morning, Mama was at her office and Lily was watching us. Lily probably loved us more than anyone, but was not equipped to actually care for us. She was kind but distracted. She loved television. In Lily’s care, we were raised on a diet of Guiding Light and As the World Turns. People lived in dimly lit but luxurious rooms, were never outside. They smoked. They cried and screamed at each other. They looked puzzled, confused, unhappy. They would stare at one another in fury, and the next moment be locked in a lustful kiss. It was not like that around our house, but our house was different. I already knew that.

Bella and I were restless that morning, and Lily marched us into the kitchen to make cupcakes. Which is to say, she got a packet of cupcake mix from the cupboard, and a measuring cup, and told us to mix three quarters of a cup of milk with the mix, in a big bowl with a big spoon to stir, until all the lumps were out. Then, she said, we needed to put butter on squares of wax paper and rub the butter all over the cupcake tin. She seemed to think we would remember all this accurately and not forget what came after the word “cupcake”, as any five year old would.

When I grabbed the packet from Lily’s hand, she scolded: “Catarina, for pete’s sake, let your sister play too.” Play? This was not play. This was some serious culinary action. Maybe those cupcakes put me on the path that ultimately led to the kitchen.

Lily retreated to the TV room.

Bella and I got the mix into a big ceramic bowl which was blue on the outside and glazed white on the inside. Then we tried to measure the milk in the measuring cup, but forgot the amount. I did that part, and erred on the side of caution, not putting enough milk in. I got a wooden spoon from the canister on the counter, and started mixing in earnest.

It was lumpy and powdery and I got bored quickly. I let Bella take a turn stirring. “Put some elbow grease into it,” I told her, using a phrase from Lily.

Our kitchen was all checkerboard. I still dream about it. Square yellow and white floor tiles, and a backsplash that was blue and white ceramic. My logo now, for my company, is a yellow and white checkerboard.

Lily had said something about smooshing butter all over a cupcake pan, and this sounded appealing. Wax paper? I forgot that part. The butter was hard from the fridge, so I ran it under some hot water. Bella was chanting as she stirred. She had a sweet voice, but since she was applying so much elbow grease to her task, her tone took on a note of stridency. Eeny meeny MINEY mo. Catch aniggle BY the toe. That was Lily’s verse too. Mama had already told us to stop singing it. She swatted our behind if she heard it, even though we had no inkling what the words meant. But the intensity of the moment made Bella forget.

The butter was warm and melty on my hands, and I started to coat the cupcake pan with it. I wondered why we had to do this. It made little sense, but Bella and I had learned that not much made sense, and forged ahead anyway. I smoothed the butter in the little cups, and around the cups, and on the back of the tin, too. It was well and truly coated with butter, as Lily instructed.

Bella then dropped the bowl on the floor and began to cry. The bowl was heavy and may even have dented the soft floor tiles. But it didn’t break, and she and I scooped up the batter that had escaped. We heard Lily call out, “I’ll be right there!” She was waiting for a commercial break. How she had faith that we hadn’t broken something important, like a spine, remains a mystery to me.

Lily finally arrived, corrected our mistakes, and searched the cupboards for something to use as icing once the cupcakes were baked. She added milk to the mix and stirred the lumps out, wiped off the excess butter from the tin and dusted the cups with flour. She poured some of the batter into the measuring cup and let us fill the tin cups halfway full. She forgot to preheat the oven, and so set it, and told us to call her when it beeped to indicate that the oven had reached temperature. Meanwhile, she said, we could draw pictures of cupcakes to show Mama. Ok?

And she sat us at the kitchen table. It had a smooth, cool formica surface, light blue with silver speckles. We each had a sheet of letter sized white paper, and shared a box of sixteen coloured pencils, which were our drawing tools of preference for the moment.

Bella had a talent for drawing, and she concentrated, her tongue tight against her lip as she drew what appeared to be a birthday cupcake, with green icing and some pink candles. Our birthday was coming up, we would be six, and would also start school. Some heavy life changes lay in our immediate future. Mama impressed that upon us. Turning six was important. School! We couldn’t wait to start. Mama was trepidatious, as if she feared we would fuck it up.

Bella was so lovingly drawing that cake that I deduced she was particularly fond of cupcakes. So my picture showed a Bella (Bella was differentiated from me, Cat, in my drawings, by a bow in her hair) who had a big fat belly full of cupcakes, demonstrated by her tummy kind of exploding and cupcakes and blood flying out of it. Not high art, but it told a story.

Well, Bella howled when she saw it. Lily was furious. “You expect me to show that to your Mama?” and she walloped my behind and sent my out to the back porch to repent. That’s exactly what she said. “You go out there and repent for awhile.”

I was unrepentant. Art, free expression, creative genius stifled because Bella cried! No doubt her cupcake drawing would adorn the fridge for Mama to see, while mine failed to pass the censors and would end up in the garbage pail under the sink. Life was unfair.

Anger tied my tummy in knots for awhile, then I stared at the sumac, which was starting to leaf out. And I saw the dancers, he holding her in a long silken gown, spinning round. Graceful, dipping to the unheard music, round and round. There was no anger, no anything, in that cloud ballroom.

Daddy drove a Buick. It was big and flashy, green in colour. We had a carport in the back, from the lane, but he didn’t pull in. His car was parked in the lane, the engine running.

We hadn’t seen him for almost two weeks. Mama said he was away but we knew better. It was hard to remember when they didn’t yell and scream at each other, like the characters did on Lily’s television programs. There was no accompanying puzzlement or confusion, though, no lustful kisses, only shouting. Daddy would say, “Just stop it, you’re upsetting the girls” and Mama would say, “They need to know what a giant asshole you are!” And so on. Mama was the fearsome one. If we actually witnessed them fighting, instead of just hearing it while cowering in our bedroom, it was Mama we were afraid would strike out, would punch him or grab a ersatz weapon and crown Daddy the king of awful. I don’t know why my own temper annoyed her so, since it was obvious who I had inherited it from. “I won’t let you near them!” she screamed at him, and we guessed she meant us, his daughters.

Bella was the calmer one, it’s true. But all the same, it was strange that I was the one who cried, fearful, into my pillow during those fights, and Bella who crawled in beside me to offer comfort. Bella, dry-eyed, unafraid, warm arms wrapped around me as we spooned. I was the strong angry one, Bella the gentle, soft one. Shouldn’t she be the one who wept?

Daddy was standing outside the running car, and calling out in a low voice. “Bella, sweetheart, darling, come over here.” I looked up and stared. He gave an awkward wave, smiling. “It’s ok,” he said. So I stood up and went to him.

He scooped me up in his arms and I swear he sniffed me. “I miss you so much,” he said. “Where’s your sister?”

I didn’t answer, but he didn’t mind. We drove away in the Buick.

The Houseboat Part 1

Prompt: The Road Less Traveled
Pinpoint a moment in your past where you had to make a big decision. Write about that other alternate life that could have unfolded.


If only they hadn’t gone on that ridiculous houseboat vacation. Colin had been so excited, so enthused, even though he knew nothing about boating or boats or rivers or mechanics or the dynamics of spending days and days and days in the company of one person who may or may not drive you crazy.

The cramped sleeping quarters, alleged plumbing (toilet and shower), and alleged kitchen were below decks, with living space, bridge and lounging deck above. To move between decks you had to use an outside ladder at the bow of the boat It was a squat, dwarfish vessel.

The houseboat was made of wood, because wood was cheaper to rent, and this was before Colin got tenure. He preferred the look of the wooden houseboats anyway. He actually longed for the straight angles, the creaking boards, and yes, the peeling paint of a traditional wooden houseboat. Insurance was more expensive, but Colin ignored that. They were going on a romantic Colin- wish-fulfillment dream, not an actual holiday with two people participating.

Because of staff upheavals at the university, Catherine had barely seen this man for the past year, this awkwardly tall, often tactless, but bright and funny man who was oafishly in love with his wife. So she convinced herself that they needed this time together, wherever it was, even a houseboat in France. Maybe not.

The houseboat might have provided the romantic getaway Colin feverishly imagined, if it hadn’t rained so much. Colin had pictured himself on the outside bridge, feet up, steering intuitively down pristine river banks, perhaps spotting deer or other game. But it had rained, almost without stopping. The interior of the houseboat was not built for someone of Colin’s stature. In the brochure this was even mentioned: “NOT recommended for those of above average height.” So indoors, Colin stooped along, optimistic at first and laughing at the novelty of living in a dollhouse, then a slow furrow developed between his eyebrows as the rain continued. Day after day.

The river rose, flooded banks. A sodden mist shrouded the shoreline. Their hot water inexplicably stopped flowing, so it was difficult to keep themselves and their clothing clean. Impossible really. There was no clothes dryer, and the underwear and t-shirts tossed onto sagging lines strung across the upper deck quarters stayed soggy in the humid air. It was warm, and the houseboat took on the dense, damp smell of mold and rot.

So there was not much fresh air or communing with nature, no healthy glow from the sun. There was the sharing of cramped quarters, with the rain pounding endlessly on the roof of the houseboat, the skies grey, the mist spreading.

They made fewer attempts at baby-making than they had intended. It was sticky and uncomfortable and not conducive to passion, despite their efforts. There was no hot shower before or afterwards, or even a brisk cold one, since the water stayed at a permanent tepid temperature.

Catherine awoke on a drizzly Saturday morning, pretty certain they were lost. There was no concrete evidence, nothing that would hold up in a court of law, but the river banks seemed nearer, the passage narrower, the pace slower. Colin had risen early to get a good start on the day, hoping no doubt to sail out of this dismal rain and into the sun again. They had originally planned on avoiding “civilization” —the picturesque towns that dotted the shoreline of the main cruise routes, but now they would hungrily welcome the diversion of a cool, dry cafe; even a decadent night spent in a cool, dry hotel room.

Perhaps Colin had consulted the map and was now competently directing them to a perfect community in the sunshine. Catherine’s bones told her otherwise.

It was late morning when the Miss Misty ran aground, with a painful roar and the sound of steel bending, although Catherine was sure there was nothing of steel in the craft at all, save the front of the tiny stove. Had that bent?

She was thrown off her feet, and while on all fours shouted, “Colin! Are you there? Are you all right?” She could hear him thumping around on the deck above her. Never graceful at the best of times, there was however an unusual speed to his movements. She got to her feet, climbed up the ladder and flung open the door. “Um, abandon ship,” he said with a shy smile.


To be continued.