He was very pensive [Repost]

Prompt: Teach

grapes-690230

Todd’s mother answered the door. She stood there staring blankly at Lily-Rose, without recognition or curiosity, and said, “I’m not interested.” She started to close the door.

“Mrs Caper?” Lily-Rose said quickly. “I’m Todd’s English teacher, Ms Roades. I was just wondering how he is doing.”

“Oh,” said Todd’s mother. “Oh, well, come in.  I’m so sorry, we get so many suspicious people coming to the door!”

Do you? Lily-Rose thought, slightly ill-at-ease with the lack of some kind of immediate connection with Todd’s mother. There was always something, she found, when you met someone new, if you looked. A warmth in the eyes, a recognition of challenges shared. A camaraderie based on a flimsy but mutual instinct. She felt none of that, and neither did Mrs Caper.

Todd’s mother was tall and thin, with wavy, partially grey hair pushed behind her ears, and now that she was smiling, was not unattractive.

She stood aside and Lily-Rose tentatively entered the Caper home.

Nothing wrong with it. Clean, carefully decorated and tended. Framed pictures on the living room walls, though Lily-Rose would be hard-pressed to remember their content later.

“How is he doing?” she asked Mrs Caper.

“Well of course the flu became pneumonia,” said Mrs Caper, as if that was the established progression of life. “He has always been delicate. I’ve done my best.” She looked at her watch.

“Of course,” said Lily-Rose. She held out a small brown paper bag. “I brought some fresh grapes,” she said smiling,” it’s kind of a traditional offering.”. Mrs Caper took the bag, looked inside, and then back at Lily-Rose. There was an odd silence. “May I see him?” said Lily-Rose.

Todd’s bedroom had the usual accoutrements expected of a “normal” affluent teenager: expensive computer, posters of badly photographed women, blood-spattered heavy metal band posters, wi-fi speakers everywhere, yet the room was completely neat and in order. Mom had obviously taken her son’s weak moment as an opportunity to tidy up.

His bed was dishevelled; a sign of restless sickness and restless sleep. A pitcher of once-icy water and a clean glass were set on the bedside table. There was a small plastic tub, too, presumably to catch any stray vomit. The room was not stuffy since the window opposite the bed was wide open. The curtains moved lazily, like ghosts.

Todd looked a little pale, with not unexpected dark circles under his eyes. He looked at her with a pronounced What the Fuck expression.

Which was not surprising, since Lily-Rose and Todd had evolved into mortal enemies since the start of the spring semester. He refused any attempts at discipline, and bordered on physical threats. Lily-Rose had never experienced such hostility in her teaching career before, and needed to see where he came from. She needed to know if it was her failing, or his– or no one’s failing, but a circumstance to be endured, a problem to pass on to his next set of teachers.

“How are you feeling?” Lily-Rose asked when his mother finally retreated from the room.

He didn’t answer. He stared at the ceiling.

“I have your last test results with me,” said Lily-Rose. “And a little outline about what we are studying now, into next month.”

He then turned his gaze on her. “Get out,” he said.

“Here,” Lily-Rose said, pulling a sheet of paper out of her soft-sided briefcase, “is your answer to one of the test questions, Use ‘pensive’ in a sentence.” She read his answer: “He was very pensive.” Then she looked up and smiled.

“I thought that demonstrated a sense of humour,” she said.

“I don’t care about you, your class, what you think, who you fuck,” said Todd.

Ouch, thought Lily-Rose.

“Well, I appreciate a sense of humour,” she said. “But anyway the main reason I am here is to apologize.”

He pretended not to be interested.

“I came into the classroom when I had the flu,” said Lily-Rose. “I should have stayed home. I’m sure you caught the bug from me.”

Todd looked startled. Lily-Rose concluded he was expecting a different kind of apology. She was intensely interested in what apology Todd expected. She was missing something.

Mrs Caper came into the room, unannounced, with a thermometer. Lily-Rose stood up.

“Let me show you out,” said Mrs Caper.

They walked to the front door, and Mrs Caper said politely, “Thank you for coming.”

Lily-Rose caught her eye, and held it for a moment. “Please keep me informed,” she said.

And she walked home, thinking about the look in Mrs Caper’s eyes, and what it meant in relation to Todd. She understood it completely. It was a look of complete detachment, disinterest, distance, and disdain.

That was the look that Todd, as a child and now an adolescent, faced every day. Lily-Rose would think about it, but she believed when Todd returned to school, they might become allies instead of enemies.


  • Original Prompt: Pensive, May 19, 2016.

 

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The Night of the Planets [Repost]

Prompt: Faith
Original Prompt: Awe, June 23, 2016

saturn

Some people think that I dreamed the whole thing, but I know it really happened.

I live in Arizona, U.S.A., in a suburb way south of a city called Scottsdale. Houses in this “community” are small and cheap, and many of them still lie empty, with dead palm trees glued to the soil in front of the door. In the winter, a few more neighbors appear, but not many, and they leave again in spring.

My abode has two small bedrooms and a small wall-enclosed garden. Beyond the low walls are other small gardens belonging to other house dwellers. The project was originally gated; now the gate stands permanently open. I put a splash pool in the middle of the garden, which has no plants, for my dog, Poopy. That is a play on words, of the famous dog, “Snoopy”. My garden gets morning sun, so the water is too warm for Poopy to play in until early afternoon. I bring out a pitcher of ice cubes to help cool it down. Poopy splashes around in it like a toddler. It is strange to watch.

The kitchen has a fancy fridge that makes ice cubes. The fridge came with the house. All I really needed to buy was a TV set, which I got at Walmart, a ninety minute drive south-east. It is a Samsung 30″ flat screen and I mounted it on the wall.

There are no grocery stores, restaurants, or shops of any kind within an hour’s drive. There is a Texaco gas station, though, which stocks Lay’s Potato Chips and Pepsi, if I ever get desperate.

I was born in Wisconsin, so I am technically a “cheesehead”. My father still lives there, at least he used to; I believe he is on the road, looking for me.

Yes, I am a taker of drugs. I have some pain without them. I also enjoy recreational drugs. In the community of empty box houses in the desert south of Scottsdale, there is not much else to do. I take my medication, smoke a little weed, sometimes talk to Facebook friends on the Internet. They are not real friends, since I call myself Jody Marx, which is not my real name, and in Facebook I live in California. But it is fun to talk to other people. It could be that their Facebook feed is false too. Who knows?

I walk Poopy early in the morning and late at night. If I drive to Scottsdale or Walmart, he comes with me in the car. The car has air-conditioning.

Poopy and I decided to drive south and take a few detours, just to see what we would find. I always pack a cooler of water, just in case, and sometimes some beer. I have a cell phone, but no guarantees that I will have reception.

On our exploration drive, we ended up in a place that was so empty it could have been the far side of the moon. Flat and utterly barren in all directions, there was something breathtakingly beautiful about it. I let Poopy loose, and he went a little crazy, running around with his nose to the ground. There was not even a tree or shrub to pee on.

As nightfall approached and it started to cool off, I set up a lawn chair so I could relax and watch the sun set on a perfectly flat horizon. I was hungry, and so was Poopy, so I was going to drive the hour and a half back right after the sun went down.

The stars were out, of course, and there was a winking red light low in the sky that I thought might be Mars. I don’t know much about the planets, just that there are nine of them, and they include Mars, Saturn, and Earth. Sometimes a star fell, and I made a wish. Poopy was curled up beside me on the hard-packed dirt, moody because he hadn’t been fed.

I had to get my jacket out of the trunk of the car, as it gets cold at night sometimes, in the desert.

I must have dozed off just as the sun disappeared. The lawn chair was uncomfortable, but the air was soft and perfectly cool, and the silence was as deep as the silence in the well at my Grandfather’s house, which I fell down when I was nine. That was quiet. This was quiet.

When Poopy barked I opened my eyes and there she was. I don’t know why I call the planet Saturn a “she”. I think actual Saturn might have been a god? And probably male. But “it” was not right and “he” sounded crazy.

She filled the sky with her plump perfect roundness and wide shimmering bands. I thought I was dreaming, sure I did, but I poked Poopy, who was staring too, he stopped barking, and I stood up and walked around a bit, not taking my eyes off the sky, off the beautiful she-planet.

I took my phone out and took a picture. I went to the trunk of the car and got out a beer. I sat in the lawn chair again and stared at her.

The thing with me is, I believe my eyes. I believe I saw the planet in the Western sky, Poopy and I both did. I didn’t have anyone to share this information with, not really, so when we got home, after I fed Poopy, I put the news on. There was no mention of it. I called the local TV station and told them what I saw. They listened carefully and thanked me, but they did not put it in their news broadcast. I posted the picture to my Facebook page without comment. It just looked like a blurry planet. I should have included the lawn chair and Poopy in the photo.

I know there are scientific laws, laws of physics and astronomy. I understand that. I also understand that when you stare at a night sky so immense as the one that hangs over our heads all the time, every second, you have to come to realize that there are things beyond our knowledge, beyond explaining, beyond faith or religion, beyond science, beyond our comprehension.

Some people think I was dreaming, but I know what I saw to be true. I wonder if anyone else sees the unseeable sometimes. Who was dreaming that night, who saw what was real, and who refused to see what was in front of their faces?


 

Fairy Tale Ending [Repost]

ice cream sprinkles

We sat on the sunporch, though it was after midnight. They usually didn’t arrive until after two am, but it was impossible to rest, knowing they were coming. So we didn’t rest. We gathered in skimpy clothing, because it was so very hot overnight. The men were bare chested, shiny with sweat and the women wore tank tops glued by the heat to their bodies.

We played Yahtzee. It was the only game that did not incite physical fights. It was the perfect blend of luck and skill… you could not justifiably kill a person because of the random numbers on the dice.

The children ate ice cream in the kitchen. We didn’t force them to bed at the children’s time because it could be their last hour, too. They had sprinkles to put on their ice cream, if they wanted, and chocolate milk. It would be their best last night, if that’s the way it turned out.

I went to the doorway and looked out at the night. It was so beautiful it made me miss a heartbeat; deep, intense and fragrant, with moonlight shining through the lush and tiny leaves of the trees, shimmering like light upon the water.

My parents and grandparents were dead. It was pointless to lay blame with them. They thought everything would work out. They had the optimism of deniers. They chose not to see what covered them like a blanket. They chose to be blind. They dreamed of a lush and welcoming world for their children, and lived on faith.

They were criminally wrong.

When the things came, a little earlier than 2 am, the screens held for a long time. They had no evil intent; they were trying to survive, just as we were.

It was breathlessly frightening, listening to them trying to breach the screens. At those moments I thought of my parents and grandparents who could have laid out a different path for us. They knew about beauty and caring and value and wisdom, but not about survival, not about reality.

I want to say they were misled, or lied to, or simply not aware.

But they knew. And now our children put sprinkles on their ice cream, before they died.


  • Original prompt: Screen, March 6, 2016

 

Chandler’s Folly [Repost]

Prompt: Retrospective

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It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.

Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.

It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?

“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”

She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.

“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.

“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.

She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”

She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.

The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters,  a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.

“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Folly.”

“Folly?”

She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”

And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.

I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.


Surrender [Repost]

Promtp: Guilty

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Leep couldn’t believe it. He used the remote to turn up the volume.

He was sitting in his lounger, the comfortable one, with a pad of art paper in his lap, sketching ideas for his latest book, The Fog Monster. It was challenging, trying to illustrate fog, especially since he was not a trained artist. Did he give the fog a face? Did he give it a form? In his head the Fog Monster was unseeable, but children might need a monster they could recognize, a human-style monster that they could understand and relate to. After all, the Fog Monster wasn’t all bad. Leep didn’t want to scare his potential readers to death. But kids should know that life wasn’t all a bed of roses. That wouldn’t help them in later life.

He had the evening news on the television. He liked the news readers: Hal and Denise, and the pretty weather person, and the sports reporter who made all the jokes. He felt almost like he would be comfortable with them, you know, going out to dinner or something. They seemed like they would be easy to talk to.

He only half-paid attention to the broadcast as he contemplated his drawings, his mechanical pencil in hand. But he heard something that made him stop cold, as he was erasing the Fog Monster’s eyebrows, on the grounds that they were a bit too much.

Something terrible had happened. Denise was announcing that a man had been arrested for the murder of Vincent Demarco.

Leep could not feel his heartbeat, nor that he was breathing, nor his toes. He only felt a cold finger of sweat creep up his his spine, as he watched the police spokesperson speak in front of a gathering of news reporters.

He tried to concentrate, to really listen, but it was hard.

We have a suspect in custody, said the spokesperson. He has confessed to the crime. His name is Anthony Gizmodo, of no fixed address.

They showed a picture of him they’d taken after he was arrested. He was unshaven and unkempt, his eyes open a little too wide. Leep leaned in a little closer to the screen. Oh no. It was Tony, the homeless guy he passed every morning on the way to work.

Leep used to drop change, a few coins, in Tony’s hand or his hat as he passed, but he had to admit, Tony wasn’t the friendliest homeless man on the block. But, Leep guessed, he had no reason to be friendly. He was homeless, and neither Leep nor any other person with a home understood what his life was like. He regarded the passers-by, with their homes and lives, with a palpable resentment.

Tony was angry and sad, but he was no killer.

Why had he confessed? Was he coerced? Did he need attention? Was he hungry? Was he crazy? Leep knew only one thing: Tony was innocent of the crime.

He spent the rest of that Friday night, and all of Saturday, trying to figure it out. He was frustrated and confused. But he really knew what he had to do all along, the second he heard about Tony’s arrest.

On Sunday night, after dark, Leep put on his black ski jacket. He got the gun out from its hiding place. He felt numb. Once he’d seen a film of a gazelle, on the National Geographic channel, stare down a leopard. They’d locked eyes, and, Leep thought, reached a cosmic truth. The gazelle had no escape. It surrendered, and was chased down easily by the leopard.

Leep knew he was not the leopard. He was the gazelle.

He pulled up the collar of his jacket, opened the front door, and headed out into the night. There was a light mist, a fog, that lay as light as a baby’s breath on the streets and homes and businesses and pedestrians. By the end of the night, they would know that Tony was innocent.


  • Original Prompt: Fog, April 20, 2016.

Shape-Shifting [Repost]

Prompt: Rebel

Classic-Cuban-scene.-Image-by-Jaume-Escofet-CC-BY-2.0

I am a living hologram. I’m not sure why, since I don’t remember being hit by a bolt of natural or alien energy, or sustaining any particularly odd insect bites, or hanging around nuclear power plants as a child. I am more commonly called a shape-shifter.

When I went to the mall early this morning, for example, I was Cameron Diaz. Not exactly, since I didn’t want to attract autograph seekers. But malling is unpleasant for me. I don’t like shopping and trying on clothes. I don’t like changing room mirrors. Not as myself. But I like them plenty as Cameron Diaz. Plus, the freckled guy at the smoothie kiosk gets all tongue-tied, which I find endearing and sure, even a little flattering.

Sometimes I like to be invisible, blend into the crowd, if I’m indulging in a guilty pleasure like attending a Wayne Newton concert, or maybe visiting that lesbian porn film house. Then, I am my mother. Not exactly my mother, because I don’t want anyone to think my mother is curious about lesbian porn. But when my mother grew older, and a little bit rounder, and her skin a little bit looser, and her hair a little bit grayer, she became invisible. I wouldn’t have believed her if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Clerks ignoring her queries. People at parties ignoring her because she was no longer young and pretty. Sometimes I go to shops and parties as Cameron Diaz again (because she is a common transformation for me now, it only takes about ten minutes), and repay these people for their unkindnesses. I can’t teach them, so I take revenge. Nothing major, just contempt and rejection.

Job hunting, I am usually Bradley Cooper. Not exactly Bradley Cooper, because sometimes I want to be a little younger, sometimes a little taller, but he seems to have a non-threatening yet competent air about him, which works very reliably. I don’t need to job-hunt very often. I like challenges, and when I am a white man, I do very, very well.

When I find myself turning away from the human race, because the human race isn’t perfect, one of my favourite holograms is Maxine, the golden retriever. I go out prowling, covering five or more miles in a night, sniffing and peeing and visiting nocturnal friends. It is more fun than working out at the gym, that’s for sure. Once in awhile I’ll go to the farm where the family that thinks they own me live, and spend time soaking up their devotion, and rolling in muck.

Occasionally, I forget who I am. That’s when I take a trip to Cuba. I can always find myself again in Cuba.


Alarm [Repost]

Prompt: Observe

 

diamond cross 2

“You have to know I would never harm you,” Marcus said.

“Setting fire to the house with me in it kind of belies that statement,” said Envy.

Twice he had tried to reach across the table to take her hand, and twice had been rebuffed, once by the guard, and once by Envy herself.

He didn’t look like a prisoner waiting for a trial date. He looked like he had just turned up from a round of golf: a little tanned, a little tired, wondering what was for lunch. In fact, an outsider who observed just the two of them, seated at a small, pine-veneered table, would have pegged Envy for the convict; her hair was tangled, she was pale and nervous, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She was still a little battered from the fall from the balcony. Never a famous beauty to begin with, Envy was not at her best.

“The smoke alarms should have warned you,” said Marcus. “Why didn’t they?”

“That will remain a mystery for the ages,” said Envy, “since they were destroyed in the conflagration.” She wore a white gold chain with a diamond-encrusted cross pendant. She was thinking of returning to the church.

“You saw how upset I was,” said Marcus.

“That I survived,” Envy said.

For the third time, Marcus tried to take her hand. This time she slapped it. She was surprised to see his face contort in something that looked like pain. Existential or physical? she wondered.

“When did you stop loving me?” Envy said at last.

Marcus fiddled with the little sign in its plastic casing, propped up on the table. No touching. it said. No item exchange. No food. No shouting. Visitors and/or residents can and will be removed at any time at the guards’ discretion. No smoking.

Marcus looked out the window to an empty field, then back to Envy. “I never stopped loving you,” he said. “That’s why I asked you to come. I need your help.”

“Carmen got the police to describe you only as a ‘person of interest’,” Envy said.

“Carmen?”

“Your lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“That is the help I am giving you,” said Envy. “Take her advice. Tell the truth for once in your fucking life.” She stood up and leaned on her crutches. “And I’ll pray for you.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Marcus.

“Exactly,” said Envy.


  • Original Prompt: Burn, July 2, 2016

smoke-detector-monitoring-system