64 Thousand Dollar Question [Repost]

Prompt: React

orange is tnb

“Misandry isn’t a ‘thing’,” said August. “It’s a reaction to misogyny.”

Seven women sat in a circle on grey folding chairs for their weekly “Search Inside Myself” session with Dr Whitley, who named the program without much thought to the sense of humour of incarcerated women. Some were there solely because of the name of the group, and had no interest in exploring personal or sexuality issues. Their attendance was noted, and they looked upon Dr Whitley as naive, unintelligent, and laughable. These were incentive enough to encourage their weekly attendance.

“What do you mean, August?” asked Dr Whitley. She wore a cream coloured skirt and a black jacket. She always looked well-pressed. The rest of the women were clad in slightly rumpled charcoal grey two-piece uniforms, stamped with the institution’s initials on the back in sunny yellow, and with their names on badges stuck with velcro to the front of their uniforms.

“There aren’t women who hate men. Women hate what men do sometimes, but not the men.”

“Amen,” said Agnes. She was thinking of her husband, Armand, whom she didn’t realize was cheating on her at that very moment.

Miss Fisher spoke up. “There are women who hate men.” She had lost a few pounds in prison for the multiple murders, but still looked well for a woman of her age, and was far from frail. “For example,” she said, “I feel I am a misandrist. I am afraid, and regretful, that I truly do hate men. I honestly didn’t know there was a word for it until I attended this, um, group meeting.”

Search Inside Myself,” said Bonnie helpfully.

“How could you hate half the population?” August asked. She was approximately half Miss Fisher’s age. “You have reason to hate some men, but not all men.”

“I can because I do,” said Miss Fisher. “I didn’t always feel this way, but circumstances, life experiences, observations, and research have led me to conclude that the world would be a better place without men.”

“Amen,” said Bonnie, who was serving twelve years for poisoning her boyfriend.

“You hate little boys? Toddlers? Gandhi?”

“Of course I don’t hate little boys,” said Miss Fisher, smiling benignly. “But I do hate what they become. I never hated the young men in my classes, and it is tragic that they grew into men.”

“As opposed to what?” August asked.

“Decent people.”

“Many decent people are men.”

“I respectfully and regretfully disagree.”

“Do you,” said Dr Whitley, “regret the murders you committed? Are you sorry for the men you killed, and for their families?”

Miss Fisher paused. “That is the 64 thousand dollar question, isn’t it?” she said amiably. She would hardly confess to any deed or feeling to a prison doctor with both a smart phone and a ballpoint pen, without careful consideration.

“What’s that?” asked Bonnie. “The 64 thousand dollar question?”

“It means a question at the gist of a matter,” said Miss Fisher. “It refers to a game show popular in the 50s, called The 64 Thousand Dollar Question, in which the contestants had the chance to win prize money by answering a series of questions.”

“Before your time, Bonnie,” said Agnes. “It’s like Trivial Pursuit.”

“What’s that?” asked Bonnie.

“Can we please get back to the discussion at hand?” said Dr Whitley in what she perceived was an kindly yet authoritative tone of voice.

“Let’s continue Searching Inside Ourselves,” said a woman named Tricia. Dr Whitley looked at her sharply. She had never spoken in group before.

Miss Fisher smiled.


  • Original Prompt: Frail, July 18, 2016.
  • Image: Orange is the New Black, Netflix.
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Anniversary [Repost]

Prompt: Flavor

dining silhouette

The server was very pale, with dark hair and the white shirt, black trousers, and full black apron that all the servers at Le Péché wore. He wasn’t our server— ours was a curly haired blonde, but he tapped me on the shoulder as I was raising a fork of duck confit with vanilla foam to my lips.

“Excuse me madam,” he said discreetly, into my ear, so that even my husband, celebrating with me our tenth anniversary with this ridiculously expensive night out, could not hear. It had been a tempestuous ten years, with ups as high as the stars and downs that took us to fiery depths, and everything in between. It was somewhat of a miracle that we were happily marking our tenth year of survival together. “Would it be terribly inconvenient if we moved your table?” the server asked me.

“What?” I said, “Why?”

In the same low tone, the dark server said, “We’ve had a small complaint. One of our guests does not like having you within their line of sight.”

“What?” I said again, certain I’d misheard, and waved off my husband’s enquiring face and stopped him speaking.

“I’m terribly sorry, madam, but they don’t like the way you look,” said the server. “I assure you we will place you where you will be extremely comfortable.” He nodded towards the corner near the shuttered window, where an intimate table for two, surrounded by tall potted plants, apparently awaited us.

My husband Rob followed the server’s hand and eye, and looked at me with an expression of bewilderment.

“I’m too ugly to sit here,” I told him.

“Madam,” the server said with only the slightest hint of distress. “It is only a matter of ensuring all our guests are comfortable and can enjoy the riches of Le Péché.”

“That is absurd,” said Rob, his voice just loud enough to attract the attention of other discreet diners, at their discreet, comfortable, candle-lit tables.

The server looked around nervously. “Please accept a bottle of champagne, as our guests, when we’ve settled you at your new and very comfortable table.”

I stood up. It was impossible to discern who among the “guests” might have lodged a complaint of this nature, as everyone was a dim, shimmering, discreet shadow. I looked for my friend Matt’s bald pate— he might just pull a stunt like this. No subtle lighting reflected off a shiny head.

Rob told the server we would not be paying, and so the manager appeared, and feigned shock at our situation, before accepting our departure as inevitable and inviting us back for a VIP dining experience.

“At that table?” I asked. “The one in the corner where I would face the wall?”

“Madam,” said the manager, bowing formally. “Our VIP service takes place at a specially set table, in the kitchen, where you have VIP access to all that goes on in a fine kitchen of the highest calibre, and where the chef himself serves each and every course!”

We stormed out.

In the car, as we drove to Wendy’s, I stared at myself in the mirror embedded in the visor. A plain woman with pretty eyelashes and nicely formed brows, stared back at me. “What the fuck,” I said to Rob. “Am I ugly?”

“Darling, don’t be silly,” Rob said. “But hey, that VIP table sounds kind of cool. Should we call them back?”

That’s when I realized there was no such thing as a miracle.


 

The White Ribbon [Repost]

Prompt: Halloweeny

YPE_001
Carmen’s hazelnut cake did not take first place at the bake-off, nor even second place, but that was not the strangest part.

She knew the secret ingredient (ginger) and she used fresh hazelnuts from the tree in Paul and Ruth’s backyard; the batter was fluffy and light and the cake perfectly risen and golden tawny in colour. But the usual Hazelnut Cake won the contest yet again. It was allegedly a blind tasting so Carmen couldn’t cry foul. The second best cake came from Cheryl-Ann something, who squealed like an orgasmic pig when her name was announced.

No, the strange thing was, shortly after she returned home and put the coffee on, she heard her beloved Uncle Matt and Auntie Thomasina knocking shyly at her back door.

She knew it was them before she saw them through the glass panes. Auntie as plump as ever, he with a stern angular face masking a tender heart; in the same homely clothes they’d worn when she last saw them, so long ago, in the church.

She asked if they would like some cake and coffee and they happily agreed, and sat at the kitchen table while Carmen sliced her hazelnut cake and poured hot coffee from the electric percolator on the counter.

Auntie Thomasina and Uncle Matt chatted about their dogs, and the possibility of a thunderstorm, and about the potholes on the road leading to their home, which had lain abandoned for over twenty years.

Uncle Matt still had that exceptionally persistent cowlick in his hair, now grey, at the back of his head, only kept in place by some kind of hair shellac that Auntie Thomasina used to pick up at the pharmacy. He’s too old to worry about cowlicks, she laughed. In response, Uncle Matt took out a small blue velvet box and opened it to reveal an engagement ring, one small diamond in a setting of white gold. Would you do me the honour? he asked Thomasina.

They told Carmen who murdered them. It was their neighbour, Clement, who had been in a dispute with them over an easement. He was a nasty sort, they told Carmen. Was he still alive?

Carmen said she would definitely find out, and refilled their coffee cups.

This cake is delicious, said Uncle Matt. Is there ginger in it?

Perhaps you could bake our wedding cake?  said Auntie Thomasina.

Her cake had only taken the white ribbon, but Carmen said: “I would be delighted.”

They didn’t hear her. They were gone.


  • Original Prompt: Ghost, August 17, 2016
    Reposted with minor edits.
  • Cartoons return tomorrow!

Nona [Repost]

Prompt: NASA 

Catesby-Redheaded-Woodpecker

Well, it is confirmed. We overshot Mars. Someone miscalculated. Opposition was off and now we have a new destination. Oops.

First medical officer Rosa was crying about it. I felt little sympathy for her, because her tears demonstrated that all her chatter about Jonathan Livingston Seagull and her place in the universe and her oneness with the being that some call God, etc. was bullshit.

Since he was the first navigator, John had no time to ponder and went to work right away with course changes and trajectories. He didn’t like to ponder much, at the best of times.

First engineer Will was close to tears, because he probably knew better than anyone if this old bucket could make it to Beta Omega. Will had legendary eyelashes. As second engineer I had a good idea whether or not the craft could withstand the extra distance, too. Slim chance, I believed, but slim was better than none. I saw the cup half full, in other words, while Will saw it half empty.

As first communications officer, I had the charming task of telling the other four, whom I hadn’t seen in six weeks. Two of them, Chris and Haven, were scheduled to be rotated back to us, while Sara and Ed were going to welcome Rosa and Will. We did this rotation, ostensibly, to prevent the contempt of familiarity.

I went through the tunnel and rang the doorbell. We observed little courtesies like that on this journey. Chris opened the hatch, then reflexively checked his watch. “Hi,” I said. “Rotation is not until another three days.”

“Too bad,” said Chris. “I’m about to murder Ed.”

“I’m about to murder Rosa,” I told him.

Chris got everyone together in the dining room, and I explained the change in plans, relying on technical terms and euphemisms to mask the nuclear-strength emotional bombshell. I was met with a stunned silence. Ed spoke first.

“Beta Omega?” he said. “That’s B-O, not very auspicious.”

“Shut up, Ed,” said Chris. “What is the estimated time frame on this?”

“Two years til landing,” I said.

“Fuck,” said Sara.

“No return,” Haven, mistress of the obvious, said.

Ed, supply and distribution officer, told us fuel, food, water, and oxygen would get us there. We already knew that. We thought about it constantly and checked on it compulsively, no matter what the destination.

Sara, first science officer, looking up from her laptop, told us that Beta Omega was a friendly, and the only one. It would be possible. Just. Good old Sara. Glass half full.

Haven said, “I would like to convene a meeting at 1900 hours to discuss how to handle this.” Haven liked porn. I knew this because I knew what everyone watched, and what everyone read, and what everyone wrote.

“What’s for dinner?” I asked.

“Spaghetti,” said Chris. “My Nona’s recipe.”

We all thought a moment about Nona, and how Chris would never set eyes on her again, nor his father or sisters. Nor Alice, his niece, or Chief, his chocolate lab.

We thought a moment about our families. I thought about the woodpecker, the stupid one that woke me early on weekends by hammering on the metal chimney spout.

Some of us thought about sex. I glanced at Chris. My choice for daddy of the millennia, for the first born on the first world, the inauspiciously named B-O. He had a soft spot for Sara. I might have to do something about that.


  • Original Prompt: Longing for Gravity, February 27, 2016
    You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?

Callexis [Repost]

Prompt: Fantastic

Face sail Catrin-Welz-Stein

It was the most worthless bit of magic I had ever come across. The most amazing too, since magic and I did not cross paths very often; but still, damn near useless, except that the magic brought her to me.

The man said his name was Isaac. I’d heard of Isaac, he was well known in the world of dark trading. It wasn’t his real name, and he had a small army of minions, including lawyers, messengers, and mules to do his bidding. My collection was well-known, and when Callexis came into his possession, he was generous enough —and shrewd enough— to make me one of the first calls he made.

She was exquisite. Not studded with a myriad of precious jewels, only jade, but beautifully, masterfully, and lovingly crafted, with intricate patterns of vine leaves twining across her cheeks and around her eyes, the gleaming polished gold set off by the brushed, and inlays of copper, whose greenish tinge was like the venerable sister to the milky jade.

Exquisite.

Of course I wanted her. I pretended to bargain. The back and forth lasted days, until, as Isaac fully realized I would, I conceded to the near-full asking price from fear another buyer would snatch her away from me.

But how to get her across the ocean and across the country? It was not my concern, as her safe delivery was an element of the price, but I still wondered, and worried, since I wanted her so badly and shuddered at the thought of her being discovered and confiscated before I held her in my hands.

I was to meet the train, and the transaction would take place in my apartment.

When we were safely ensconced in my private den, with orders not to be disturbed, I asked the gentleman— he was a distinguished-looking man in his sixties, French, by his accent —to show me Callexis. He had only a small case with him, at which I tried not to stare.

His smile was sly, but without aggression, similar to the smile of the beautiful Callexis. Instead of reaching for his case, he reached up to his face with his hands, and in the next moment he had her, in his arms.

She shimmered. She was perfect.

“What just happened?” I asked. Callexis had appeared out of thin air. I rubbed my forehead.

“I don’t know, Monsieur,” said the man, whose name I never did know. “It is not trickery, and I do not claim to understand it. It made my voyage simple, and detection impossible.”

“What did?”

“She did,” he said. And he brought her to his face again, and she disappeared!

I had no efficient way to determine if I was dreaming, awake, hallucinating, or witnessing a magic trick the likes of which I had never seen.

“It is no trick,” the man said again. He reached his hands to his head again, and when he brought them down Callexis was again in his possession.

“Does Isaac know about this?”

“He chooses not to consider it,” said the man.

We completed our transaction, and I remained in the den, alone, with Callexis. I put her on the black marble stand that I had readied for her, and sat in my high-backed chair and stared for quite some time. I got up, put her on my face, as there were loops to fit easily over the ears, and went to the mirror. There was no Callexis, just my own countenance, staring back at me in bewilderment. I felt a tingling in my scalp, barely noticeable. I removed the mask and put her back on the stand. The tingling dissipated.

What are you? I asked. What is the purpose of this worthless magic? In grand fairy tales the mask would make one invisible, it would take one to other worlds, propelled into fantastical adventures, not perform magic as mundane and pointless as the mask itself disappearing.

What is your power? I was unable to take my eyes from her face, now both glimmering brightly and cast into deep shadows by the lamplight.

Callexis stared back at me with her sly smile, a smile that was also, I suddenly realized, complicit and strangely intimate. She, here in front of me, was as different from her pictures, from the way she appeared in my dreams, as a carousel pony was from a wild stallion.

I tried to smile back, but could not.

 


Jimmy the Wrist [Repost]

 

accordion_on_the_beach

Bernard’s mother was the accordion player in an ethnic folk band. They called themselves the Charlie Manson Quartet, and played for dances and weddings in Legion and Elk halls up and down the valley.

Of course, this was years and years before the Charles Manson family committed bloody murder in California. Bernard remembered guitarist Charlie Manson as the most benevolent kind of year-round Santa Claus, with his premature white hair and trimmed beard. Except when he drank, which was actually rare, he was a jolly trickster, who made charming but suggestive jokes in between songs, told the most ridiculous tall tales about fishing in the lakelands, and played Chinese Checkers with a fierce competitiveness.

The other band members were Harry Porter, the bass guitarist, and Jimmy “The Wrist” Corcoran, so named because he drummed a full spring wedding season with his left wrist in a cast. Bernard wasn’t sure the wrist ever healed properly, but the fracture never seemed to affect his drumming, which was odd. Or maybe he just wasn’t a very good drummer.

Jimmy was kicked out of the band after The Incident, and they never replaced him, using a small electronic rhythm device instead, which turned out to be a good thing because they could sell the van and just go from gig to gig in Harry’s massive old Lincoln, which had room for the three of them and their instruments. They became the Charlie Manson Trio.

Bernard’s mother was a pretty brunette, with doe-like brown eyes and a shy demeanour, though she really was, Bernard remembered, a crackerjack— smart, funny, and talented. She could play any kind of keyboard fluently and had a low, sweet singing voice.

She loved the water and Bernard remembered many summer afternoons at the beach, he digging in the sand for creatures— clams, mussels, burrowing sea bugs of all kinds —which he put in a big plastic washing tub filled with sand and water. Sometimes he waded on the shore in search of painted turtles, but didn’t put them in his washtub aquarium anymore because one young turtle ate all his collected clams. He brought them to his mother to be duly admired, and released them again.

Sometimes at the beach his mother read books from the library, sometimes chatted with Bernard about his collection, but mostly she liked to lean back in the blue and yellow strapped lounger in her swimsuit, and feel the sun. He remembered her humming, tunes the band played for people to dance to, or little patches of songs that she made up.

Bernard remembered one day, filled with the lazy sounds of waves lapping the shore, seagulls squawking overhead, his mother humming. The sunlight shimmered behind her, and he saw another, larger silhouette appear alongside.

“Hi Bernie,” said Jimmy The Wrist, waving stiffly. “Why don’t you go play in the water or somethin’?” Jimmy had a funny part in his hair, too close to the centre, which made him look a bit like Jimmy Olsen from the comics.

Bernie turned to his mother, who sat up in her lounge chair and ruffled his sandy hair.

“See if you can find another turtle — you can show Jimmy,” she said to her son.

People always looked strange on the beach when they were fully clothed; awkward and out of place. Jimmy wore a starched white shirt, open at the collar, and a pair of grey slacks with a belt. His shoes were polished black leather and fastened with shoelaces.

Jimmy joined Bernard’s mother on the lounger, perching on the edge, while Bernard waded ankle deep in the cool water. He hadn’t learned to swim yet, and wasn’t allowed to go any deeper.

All was well until Bernard heard loud voices. “No, I’m not!” his mother shouted. Bernard froze, and then he saw Jimmy stand up and slap his mother hard across the face. She screamed and Bernard started to propel himself from the shore towards them.

Before he reached his mother, before the blonde couple down the beach or the man at the concession stand up by the parking lot could react, a seagull, a raggedy old grey and white seagull, flew straight into Jimmy’s face.

It flew in with its beak and claws out, tearing up Jimmy’s clean-shaven face and neatly-parted hair. It fluttered its broad wings and flew away. There was blood.

Jimmy flailed around blindly, and Bernard’s mother put a towel into his hand, Bernard’s towel that had the Superman crest on it.

Jimmy was gasping and crying, the towel pressed to his face. Bernard reached his mother just as the young couple did, and she clasped his hand tightly, her other hand on her cheek. The man at the concession stand then arrived with a heavyset man in uniform, who, after talking in low tones to Bernard’s mother and the young couple, invited Jimmy to come along with him. No one seemed in a great hurry to tend to Jimmy’s wounds, but he was quiet now, and walked away with the officer silently, subdued.

Bernard’s mother knelt in the sand and enveloped Bernie in her arms. He could feel her breathing heavily, and feel the heat from the cheek that had been so forcefully struck. She hugged him tightly, and he looked over her shoulder at Jimmy and the officer in the parking lot as the officer opened a white car door and Jimmy bent to get inside. Just before his bloody face disappeared into the back seat, the old seagull returned, circled, and shit on the top of Jimmy’s head.

“We’ll get you a new towel,” Bernard’s mother, unseeing, whispered in his ear.

 


  • Original Prompt: Beach, May 5, 2016

Unpredictable [Repost]

Prompt: Clothing (or lack of)

blue-striped-beach-umbrella

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jerry!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She kept her clothes on, and so did Jerry.

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


  • Original Prompt: Fence, June 26, 2016