Astonish Me

Prompt: Flick


She entered the darkened room silently, the glow of her cigarette acting as the dimmest of lamps, and saw the silhouette of a large cat crouched in front of a window draped with a thin lace curtain. She could smell embers from a now-dead dead fireplace. 

She sensed the movement to her right before she saw it, and spun on her heel, kicking hard in a fluid, violent movement — it was Nick, one moment licking his lips in triumph at tracking her down again, now reeling backward, turning, and hitting his head on the brick mantle. The cat was quick to pounce, bloodthirsty, to lick the crimson liquid pouring from his forehead like thick cream into a bowl. She could suddenly hear the tick of a clock and smell the burnt waxiness of the extinguished wick of a candle and felt a prick of fear scud along her spine.

She flicked the ash of her cigarette as the cat leapt back onto the windowsill. She felt sick, knowing Nick would survive to tell Vic about the trick she’d played, He’d once called her a hick, a foolhardy chick— now he lay ominously still at her feet. She had no choice: She pulled the Colt from her belt and heard the click as the gun was cocked. 

The cat, in silhouette, silent and angry, flicked its tail in the moonlight. 


Now that I have fulfilled my writing prompt responsibilities, in this case trying to incorporate as many ‘flick’ rhymes as I could into a rather thin story—which was the only idea that came to mind with this word prompt— may I now present a few of my favourite cartoons relating to the hero of our story, the cat, and her favourite prey?

cartoon cat editor

cartoon church mice

cartoon Astonish me


Peace and love,

~~FP

Madness

Prompt: Spit

banana-peel-skin-fruit

“I’m not going out there.”

That’s what he said, so I got supplies together and made a meal with what was left. It looked interesting… perfectly seared steak and a new age salad. The salad was composed of bananas, chickpeas, and minced dandelion flower (for colour). He did not like it.

“I can’t eat this.” He spit the forkful of salad onto his plate. “What a waste of a banana,” he said.

The sun beamed through the window like a spotlight, illuminating dancing, fluttering dust specks. We ate early these days, to conserve electricity. I had suggested dinner by candlelight instead, but he snorted. We ate at five o’clock. It had to be right at five, since he discovered a rigid routine was soothing to him in these stressful times. He rose at seven, took Nancy for a walk, sat down to breakfast at eight, read email and the news online an until his light lunch was served at noon. In the afternoon he liked to watch legacy sports, football mostly, and nap. Another walk with Nancy took place before his dinner, the contents of which were starting to disturb his equillibrium. 

“I can’t work like this,” he said after dinner. He wrote in the evenings, parked in front of the computer screen in the spare bedroom, set up as his office. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, against my better judgement. 

“I’m hungry, for starters,” he said. “And this house is a mess. You know dust bothers me. I need peace and order. You know that. Did you clip Nancy’s nails?”

“Not unless you found the clippers,” I said boldly.

“Do I have to do everything around here?” he asked. He stood and came to me, standing in the doorway with a plate of dried apple and a cup of tea, his evening snack. He took the apple and the tea and closed the door. 

“I need my privacy,” he often said.

I turned on the television and grabbed my stack of handkerchiefs. The sewing machine was broken, so I stitched all the masks by hand. It was time-consuming. He liked to have several in rotation, and he liked to give extra to his friends outside. So I sewed extra ones.

The TV show was about a young woman living in a strict, Orthodox religious community, where her marriage was arranged and her duties clear and inalienable. I envied her. Then she gave it all up to run away to Berlin and study music.

The world had gone mad.

But I, sat there in the sagging armchair with my stack of white cotton handkerchiefs, had not gone mad. 

I put on a newly sewn mask, got a sweater, picked up the car keys and Nancy, and walked out to the old Saab. 

It took all night to drive there. I had forgotten what salt air smelled like, and forgotten the sweet bitterness of a fresh lemon. 

I pictured him at 8:45 in the morning, having foraged his breakfast, annoyed, opening his email program and finding my letter.

“Fuck off,” it said.

 

High Five [Repost]

Prompt: Dish

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.”

“Dad?”

“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.


  • Original Prompt: Clock, July 24, 2016.

Sound of Silence

scary green pepper 2

Charlotte ate green peppers all day long. She hadn’t had time for breakfast and she was hungry— starving even. It was hard work in the field, filling the baskets with peppers just the right shade of green, and while most of the pickers couldn’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of peppers, Charlotte craved their crunchy bittersweetness.

“Pesticides,” said the woman with very long grey hair, bent over in the row next to hers.

Charlotte was almost certain the peppers were organic and free from sprays. If not, sure, she could be in trouble.

“Your daughter needs a healthy immune system!” she remembered Nana Cole telling her mother. “Let her eat dirt, for heaven’s sake!”

Charlotte didn’t remember eating dirt, but she remembered the admonishment to her mother.

Pesticides were not dirt, however. But Charlotte was sure that thousands of people didn’t wash their pesticide fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming, and they weren’t all dead. Were they? Maybe the pesticides had side effects just this side of death, like… acne? Cancer? Memory loss? Baldness? Stupidity?

There was no way to know. Charlotte was thinking long and hard about this after work as she punched the button for the third and top floor of the apartment building, too tired this day to take the stairs. Just before the door glided closed a woman with long grey hair slipped into the elevator.

“Oh hi,” said Charlotte. 

“Pesticide,” said the woman.

“That’s me,” said Charlotte.

As the elevator made its initial lurch upward, there was a loud long beep, then silence, darkness, and stillness. The elevator, motionless, was frozen between floors.

“It’s premature,” said the woman.

“What? The elevator?” said Charlotte, frantically rooting around in her purse for phone, since she was terrified of pitch blackness.

“My hair, it’s prematurely grey.”

“We’re stopped, did you notice?” Charlotte flicked on the phone and held it up, casting light onto to stark metallic elevator walls.

“I don’t need the light to see the darkness,” said the woman.

“Oh jeez,” said Charlotte.

There was a red button, unlabelled, at the bottom of the small bank of floor buttons. Charlotte pressed and held it. There was no comforting sound of alarm bells or sirens to alert the world that there was trouble in the elevator shaft.

She punched in 911 on her phone. No signal.

“Hmm,” she said, checking the battery. 

 The woman took out a Bic lighter and flicked it on. The flame danced in the breeze of the woman’s breath.

Charlotte had a vision of a… Gordon Lightfoot concert somewhere in a vast, past concert hall, empty but for the grey -haired woman, a dedicated Bic fan.

“HELP!” Charlotte shouted, just in case. Elevators weren’t sound-proofed, after all. Were they? Someone might hear her cries and investigate.

The woman reached out and touched Charlotte’s forearm.

“Be brave,” she said.

“Be kind,” Charlotte said impulsively.

“Be silent,” said the woman firmly.

Charlotte was strangely comforted, as she had felt helpless and desperately wanted something to do in this predicament, and now she had a direction: silence. She took a deep breath through her mouth and exhaled through her nose. Silence was power, peace, and purpose. Charlotte understood, she got it.

But the silence did not last.

The grey-haired woman, illuminated by the flickering light, said, “When you eat, your digestive system works to break down food into usable energy to power the cells and the body’s necessary processes and functions. But your gut finds certain foods too difficult to break down into just energy and waste, and gas is the leftover product when those foods sit in your colon.

“Portions of foods that can’t be broken down and digested by the intestines travel to the colon, which is full of bacteria. The bacteria in your colon ferment these undigested particles of food, resulting in gas, burping, and flatulence.

“Green peppers,” she concluded, “are unripe peppers.”

Charlotte put her phone in her pocket. “I’m very sorry,” she said.

The woman nodded, the lights suddenly came on, and the elevator lurched hopefully.


Joy and Dismay [Repost]

New Prompt: Rouge

manet picnic

Shhhhhh! —The leaves of the lime and birch shuddered and bobbed in the wind, blinking green and dun yellow, green and dun yellow. Five six seven fat quail scudded across the grass. An animal pounced; they flew up into the air like ashes from a fire.

Molly tried to keep her knickers hidden, but the hem of her dress was not weighted like her sister’s, and so flapped and fussed and threatened to reveal not just her boot-covered ankles but her stockinged calves, her frilly pantaloons, proof a woman was hidden somewhere beneath the billows of robin’s egg blue fabric.

She didn’t partake of the claret as it took her shyness away, and sister had told her that her shyness made her prettier. So she blushed and stammered in full sobriety, while her sister sipped and laughed and flirted with Donald Heath, the man Molly wanted to wed.

Egg sandwiches were passed around, which Molly denied herself too, as they made her flatulent. Sister took two small wedges, and fed one of them to Donald Heath.

James Fenwick and his cousin Halifax attended to Molly, embarrassed as they were by the intimacy on display between sister and Donald Heath, and Halifax braided tall grasses, adorned the halo with violets, and crowned Molly, much to her joy and dismay.

Sister caught Molly’s eye and winked under long lashes, and held out her glass without looking at Donald Heath and he filled it with wine. Her dress was cranberry red with pink ribbon trim and if she spilled a drop of claret on the bodice of the dress, which she did, no one would notice.

When they all rose to make their way to the carriages, sister stumbled and this time James Fenwick took her elbow on one side and Halifax on the other. The three walked ahead on the path as Donald Heath caught up with Molly and she could smell him— tobacco, horses, and mint.

“You must be very hungry and thirsty,” said Donald Heath.

“No, not at all,” said Molly as her stomach growled audibly. She half crouched as they walked, as the wind had not subsided and pulled recklessly at the hem of her skirt.

“I don’t usually eat egg sandwiches,” he said. “They make me fart, so please forgive me if we share a carriage.”

Molly let out a rather ungodly snort, before blushing rouge from head to toe. Donald Heath, victorious, grinned broadly, took her elbow and whispered in her ear, “One day you’ll be my wife, and we’ll drink claret, spill it on our clothes, and—“

“—eat egg sandwiches all day long and fart as much as we choose,” said Molly. The wind calmed and they were suddenly children again, chasing each other through the tall grasses until they tumbled onto the ground, exhausted and unafraid.

Sister could go to hell.


  • Original Prompt: Partake, April 22, 2018

No Place for Secrets [Repost]

Prompt: Fright

sun_prominence

“There is no place for secrets here.”

That’s what he used to say, almost every prayer session, sometimes softly like a nurturing father, sometimes with spittle at the corner of his mouth, furious and shouting. It got so that the phrase had no meaning at all.

We weren’t sure what secrets were anymore. He mostly told us what to think about, and there seemed to be eyes upon us all the time; if not him, or some of the others, then our own eyes, upon ourselves.

He told us to think about what life means, and what it would mean without him to guide us. What if we were abandoned by him, and left to fend for ourselves up there? We trembled when we thought about it. He said we would be eaten alive up there, and we realized he meant it figuratively, but it seemed terrifying all the same.

When we looked in the mirror we saw faces without sunshine, from without or from within.

“There is no place for secrets here.” We were to confess our wayward thoughts to him. Shine the light of day on those thoughts and make them scurry like cockroaches back into the darkness. We didn’t know what the light of day looked like or felt like. We had forgotten. We confessed that wayward thought to him and he grew angry. “Up there, you would be lost. What good is the light if you souls are lost? Think about that.”

And we did. We thought about life, about life without him, about how we would be eaten alive up there, about soulless lives, about how there is no place for secrets.

So, we rolled him into a blanket, and shoved him out the door. He was right, the light was frightening. It hurt our eyes. We closed and sealed the door, and he began pounding on it. He was shouting something too, but his voice was muffled and we couldn’t make out the words.

We didn’t have to hold secret our thought, not any more. It was finally out. And he was right. The world is a better place without secrets.


Original Prompt: Secret, March 1, 2016

Paint-by-Number

doberman hydrangea-Edit

“That looks like a paint-by-number my grandmother did,” said a man in a hat. He wore a grey raincoat and could be cast as a subway flasher, Envy thought, as he seemed the tiniest bit shifty.

“I can see how you might get that impression,” she said. She looked around for the server with the tray of white wine. Exhibit openings always attracted fresh new art aficionados, or at least those who could tolerate modern art and who liked free wine, which was ok with Envy as long as she got her fair share.

“This one is $670 though,” said the man, not taking his eyes off the small painting, which was a representation of two doberman pinschers in front of a blue hydrangea shrub.

“Framed,” said Envy.

“Does the frame cost $665?” asked the man.

Envy wondered where the featured artist, Francesco Brown, had wandered off to. He was a thoughtful and precise man, and could likely engage the man in the hat in a startling and enlightening conversation.

The pianist had started playing ragtime, which Envy detested at that particular moment as it clashed with her mood and, she felt, with the paintings on display. She signalled to Meghan, her assistant, who didn’t notice, as she was swiping at a blob of cream cheese which had dropped from a canapé onto her blouse.

“Francesco Brown,” said Envy to the man, who had turned his head to stare at her when she hadn’t responded, “paints in a somewhat primitive, two-dimensional style as a way of connecting with past sensibilities and in response to the current trend of what he calls multi-media ‘meddling’.”

“He does, does he?” said the man. He took his hands out of his pockets and Envy, in momentary panic, feared he would suddenly expose himself.

“He can explain his aesthetic better than I can. Why don’t I find him for you?” She looked around again for the tray of wine.

“Not necessary,” the man said quickly. “I’ll take it.”

“Take it?”

“I’ll buy it. This one. The dogs. It reminds me of my grandmother. She was the only one who never asked me why I collected sticks. Plus, it has a nice frame.”

Envy insisted the man in the hat meet the artist, who was charming and drew out from the man that his name was Edward, he lived in the neighbourhood, he had a dog named Cleo, he didn’t drink, and he preferred to pay by cash rather than a credit card, which made it awkward for Envy, who didn’t want to put the “sold” sticker on the picture until the money was safely in hand.

Edward didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was no “sold” sticker on the painting of the Dobermans with Hydrangea. He said he would drop by the next morning with the cash and seemed confident the picture would be wrapped and ready to go.

But he did insist on a cup of coffee at the Starbucks next door after the event ended at nine pm. Envy agreed, and a coffee with a client was a good excuse to duck out and leave the closing up to Meghan, who hadn’t been much help at the exhibit otherwise.

They chatted briefly about the obvious topics: the exhibit (well-received), the artist (not as flaky as expected), the attendance (solid, including at least one arts writer from a small local paper), and the sales (satisfactory).

Then Edward said, sipping on his black coffee, “You are dying for a glass of wine.”

“Not drinking makes you an expert?” said Envy, a touch prickly.

“In a way, I guess so,” said Edward. “I always liked a drink after any kind of exhausting activity.”

“What kind of exhausting activity?”

“You know, like the end of a project, a speech, a big sale, lovemaking, anything emotional.”

“To be honest, I could murder one,” Envy admitted.

“I won’t keep you,” said Edward. “You just seemed interesting. Not like the women I usually meet.”

Envy stifled a yawn. That old line. She possibly got it more than most women, since she was, by any objective standard, not particularly attractive. She instinctively looked at her watch, then blushed at the inadvertent impoliteness.

“Sorry,” said Edward.

“No, I’m sorry,” said Envy. “I’m not bored, honest.” Not yet.

“Is that an engagement ring?” Edward asked, indicating the glittering tri-ruby ring on her left ring finger.

“It is,” said Envy with a sigh. “Though I don’t know if I am really engaged.”

“What’s the confusion?”

“I have the ring, but not sure if I want the marriage,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”

“Because I’m safe, anonymous? I have a kind, trusting face?” suggested Edward.

For a flasher, thought Envy. But she found herself continuing, “We love each other, we do, we should get married.”

“But?”

“He thinks I’m not over my first marriage.”

“Oh. Are you?”

“Definitely, but not over the man,” Envy said. Yes, that was it. The worst combination of feelings for an engaged person ever: cynical about the institution of marriage and still clinging to the connection with the ex. Shit.

“Selfishly, I can’t help but think that puts me in third place at the very least.”

“Amazing, isn’t it, how someone who looks like me could have an interesting love life?” Envy said, much more harshly than she intended.

Edward gently set his coffee cup down and stood to his feet. “It’s been fun, Envy, but Cleo can’t walk herself, so I should run.”

Envy rigorously decided against being embarrassed or regretful, and held out her hand. “Thanks for the coffee, and see you tomorrow.”

“Right,” said Edward.

Whether he would show up at the gallery to pay for Dobermans with Hydrangea or hop the subway in his raincoat was anyone’s guess.

 

Oasis

Romantic Couple at Sunset

Leep got himself a ferocious sunburn on his very first day at the resort, and subsequently had to wear thick lashings of sunscreen, a hat, and cover both his arms and legs to protect himself, even when he sought refuge in the shade under a tree or umbrella or beach canopy.

He regularly submerged himself in tub of cold water until his steaming skin warmed it to soup temperature, and took two extra-strength Advil every four hours as directed, to deal with the stinging pain of the burn. He lay in darkened rooms until the buoyant nausea subsided.

He watched the swimmers and boaters and fishers and wind-sailors with wistfulness and regret, even though he couldn’t swim and wouldn’t dream of paying $185 to frighten himself by wind sailing. And so he became an observer of others on vacation, not a vacationer himself.

There was the self-conscious newlywed couple, desperate to make romantic memories but curiously awkward and restrained; Felipe the activities director whose bright encouraging expressions dropped from his face in seconds when he turned his head away from the giddy group learning to line dance or build leis or use flippers. There was Alejandra, lean and muscular, who patrolled the pools and cafes and restaurants in a navy staff bikini and black pareo; the blonde sisters who took pains to befriend the staff and ignore the advances of other guests; the quiet man and woman who spent long days in the sun in silence and stillness, growing black; and the young family whose children were more dignified and well-mannered than their parents.

And Leep, anonymous in a wide rimmed straw hat, behind dark sunglasses, in long sleeves and grey cotton trousers that covered him to his ankles, distant and unapproachable.

Then, one day, he fell in love. He didn’t kid himself: love among the palms was a fantasy of Leep’s, at least it was since he researched and booked his ten days at a lushly landscaped all-inclusive tropical resort. There were photos online of couples laughing together in an azure pool, sipping exotic drinks in candlelit dining rooms, silhouetted by orange skies as they strolled hand in hand at twilight. He understood, of course he did, that these were marketing ploys, alluring and fantastical and unreal, but he fell under their spell nonetheless. The silhouette of the man could be Leep, why not? The woman could be a blonde sister, or Alejandra in a black pareo, or someone seated next to him at the fish and chip lunch, or someone he encountered not far from the resort, while sitting on a stool in deep cool shade, sipping Dos Equis and watching the beach vendors hawking their silver and leather.

Yes, there.

She was tall and too thin and wore a gauzy embroidered top cinched by a leather belt over jeans so faded as to be almost white in colour. Her leather sandals had loops that surrounded her big toes. She was dark, naturally, since she lived in constant sunshine, and her voice, though soft, betrayed too many years of smoking cigarettes.

“I quit in 1990,” she told Leep. “Cold turkey.” She spoke in short bursts like that, which Leep liked since they made his halting manner of speech seem almost normal.

“Another beer, Leep?” She took his empty glass and smiled at him with slightly raised eyebrows.

He’d already had his usual limit, two, but he smiled back, shrugged and nodded, and Lacey laughed and pulled another frosted green bottle from the little refrigerator with the glass doors.

Reggie was at the far end of the bar as he was every day, setting himself apart because the fragrant smoke from his pipe did not please everyone. He sat with his back to the beach, facing the tiny bar and the banyan tree behind that and the modest whitewashed hotel behind that. Soon Camille would roll out of bed and appear in her rumpled sundress and open weave cardigan sweater, ordering an orange juice, then and orange juice with vodka, then a vodka straight up.

Tourists strolling the beach might spot the small, shady, set-back oasis, but Leep knew it looked like a black hole from the sand, appealing only to someone like Leep, sweating under his hat and his shirt and with an eye for the black holes of the world.

Sometimes the curious would appear anyway, and perhaps have a drink with pineapple juice or slices of papaya which Lacey served up with a flourish, before setting off into the real world again. Reggie and Camille and Leep would fall silent for a while, as Lacey bantered with the fresh faces, and when they finally left Camille might pick up the story of her ex husband where she’d left off, or Leep would ask Lacey another question about her travels, or Reggie might say, “When did shoulder pads come back in style?”

Leep and Lacey, Reggie and Camille. They were a group. A gang. A comfortable clique. A casual club. An exclusive society of dark sitters, nectar sippers, easy idlers. Leep had never been a member of a group that welcomed him by choice, not ever. Among these people, Leep was a swaddled stranger, a mysterious man of few words, a kindred soul, a fellow traveller. He had never been happier in his life.

In the evenings, before bed, as he lingered in the tub of cold water he would dream about calling Mr Duffy and quitting his job, taking an inexpensive room at the whitewashed hotel, banging out his stories on a typewriter, sipping beer and sharing experiences with his group, his club. His friends. His woman.

Why not?

Days Like This [Repost]

Prompt: Switch

sheets-on-clothesline

Oh no.

Leep awoke slowly, but to the distinctive odor of his own body, warm sheets wrapped around him in knots, his head under the covers.

It was going to be one of those days.

Did anyone else have such days? He got out of bed, stripped off the sheets, took them to the back hallway and put them in the washer. He had only the one set of bedding at the moment, so he set the oven timer to remind him to transfer it to the dryer.

He had a quick shower: quick because the hot water was so pungent, minerally, and reeking of chemicals. Was it always like this?

The kitchen smelled of burnt bacon, lingering from two nights ago. Leep switched on the oven fan. There was a mechanical part loose inside the fan so it rattled ominously. He wouldn’t be able to tolerate coffee this morning, so he put the kettle on for tea. The kettle smelled salty, so he spent half an hour scrubbing hard water build-up before filling it with fresh water and plugging it in.

The fresh tomatoes were heaped in a cardboard flat on the counter. Their scent wafted over to where Leep hovered over the kettle and his teacup. Green and earthy, a pleasant smell, but combined with the burnt bacon, the hard water, the chicken skin in the kitchen garbage pail (he emptied it into the big garbage can out back), the smell in the kitchen was overwhelming.

Outside the air was sulphuric, so much so that Leep could almost see the yellowness of it. He held a cotton handkerchief over his mouth and nose and made his way to the car. He put the tomatoes in the back seat.

The sharp smell of evergreen assaulted Leep as he slid into the driver’s seat. There was a green cut-out fir tree dangling from the rear view mirror shaft, and Leep had no option but to yank it off and toss it out the window. He would clean it up later. Then there was the grease. Leep reached under the passenger seat and found an old hamburger wrapper. Sighing, he got out of the car, picked up the air freshener tree from the ground, and put them both in the garbage can before leaving for Beth’s house.

Leep got the flat of tomatoes from the back seat of his car and went around to the kitchen door of the house. He could see Beth, whom he called (to himself only) Lizzie, through the window, fiddling with something on the counter. He saw the shadow of someone leaving the kitchen. Her daughter, Deborah? He tapped on the door.

“Hello, Leep,” she said with a small smile, glancing behind her where the shadow had been.

“I was at Costco,” said Leep, setting the tomatoes down heavily on the kitchen table.

“Oh!” she said, with marginally more warmth. “What do I owe you?”

“No, no,” said Leep. And he suddenly noticed the smell in the room. It wasn’t Lizzie’s orange and gardenia perfume. It was a powerful scent that overrode anything else. The last time he breathed it in was late at night, on the street, with his gun drawn, hearing an insult so dire that his finger squeezed the trigger and someone crumpled to the ground. It was sweet and musky. To Leep it was a deeply unpleasant smell, but perhaps women liked it. Today, at this moment, it was overpowering.

Leep suppressed a shudder, but not enough to prevent him stammering. “I know you like, you know, tomatoes, you cook them, um—“

“Yes, thanks. I do freeze a lot of spaghetti sauce when tomatoes are in season.”

Which they weren’t, but at Costco Leep had put one of the tomatoes to his nose, and it smelled fresh and fruity. “These ones are ok, I think,” he said to Beth.

She looked to the back of the house again. “Yes, thank you, Leep.” Her breath smelled sour, of coffee. The pot she was making was not the first that Saturday morning.

“Who is he?” asked Leep, then immediately, “Sorry.” She waved her hand at him in dismissal, sending wafts of pear soap fumes.

Then, to Leep’s shock, she answered. “Just a friend from the cruise. Dropped by to say hello.”

“The cologne.” Leep said.

“I know,” said Beth.

He had to get outside. But when he stumbled out, the sulphur smell struck him again. He took his car to the 999 Car Wash. They scrubbed it inside and out. Then instead of evergreen and grease it smelled medicinal, which was intolerable too. Leep took the freshly laundered sheets out of the dryer and made up the bed. They smelled of linen, a blissfully neutral odor. He got a disposable surgical mask from the drawer in the bathroom, turned on the ceiling fan and the portable air purifier, and lay on the bed.

It might take a few hours, even until nightfall, but it had always gone away before. Did anyone else have days like this?


Innocence [Repost]

 

Prompt: Famous

adam and eve

Kelly Bak was joining Pat for a private lunch at the White House. They’d become quite close during Rich’s run for governor of California— both wives to powerful, and in Kelly’s case, very wealthy men. They could talk freely about their travels, their servants, their possessions, the famous people they knew, without sounding pompous or pretentious. All these things were incidentals, elements of their daily lives.

They both knew that the Mellon family didn’t eat shellfish, that coats made from the fur of female mink were lighter in weight but just as warm, and the first name of the owner of the hidden hotel near the Spanish Steps. They could share concerns about temperamental cooks and valets, discuss which make-up artists were the most competent, or when to wear the real jewelry and when to wear the paste.

On this day they met in the small family dining room, where Pat’s “help”, Constance, had laid out sandwich triangles of egg and ham, fruit salad, and slices of chocolate chiffon cake, along with pots of tea and coffee, on a smooth white linen cloth.

They chatted briefly about their daughters, Julie being only a few years older than Kimmy, when Pat noticed a shadow cross Kelly’s face. “What is it?” she asked.

“I think,” said Kelly, “that Kimberly made a mistake.”

“A mistake?”

Kelly hesitated. She lit a cigarette, a Virginia Slim, and inhaled deeply. Feathers of fawn-colored smoke swirled in the air around her.

“There was something going on with her riding instructor,” Kelly said at last, setting her cigarette on the rim of a cut glass ashtray that Pat had thoughtfully moved closer.

Pat didn’t smoke or drink in public, but she looked at the cigarette cradled in the Vallon ashtray with longing, and fought an impulse to smoke, herself, as she always did when conversations or feelings became too intense.

“Oh dear,” said Pat.

“He’s gone, but…”

Pat said nothing. She clasped her hands in her lap. An image of Julie and Kimmy as small children, splashing about in a turquoise blue wading pool, popped into her head. She remembered the bathing suit that Julie wore, her favourite, a pale pink and yellow plaid with a skirt frill.

“She made an appointment with a doctor,” Kelly said slowly. “A different doctor.”

“Perhaps it’s nothing— a teenage thing,” Pat said.

“No,” said Kelly. “I don’t think so.”

Pat wanted to say, Why don’t you ask her? But she knew what happened when you asked questions. They both knew.

“Would you like more coffee?” Pat asked.

Kelly set the china cup on the table and Pat poured from a silver carafe. “How is Richard?” Kelly asked.

“Richard is just fine!” Pat said. “As always.” And she smiled, and poured a second cup for herself.