The Garden

Prompt: Recreate

swing in park

“And what were you doing before you started running away?”

“I was on a swing, in the park beside the school,” said Folly.

“Where is the school?”

“Down past that traffic light,” she said.

I accelerated and we lurched forward on the little Yamaha TW we’d found leaning up against someone’s garage door. I wanted to get around quickly for this “game”, not lumber through town from inside a closed vehicle.

Every red light still triggered a stop impulse, but this time I didn’t even slow down. Folly was clinging to me tightly, her hands bunching the front of my down vest.

I saw the swings, and the small adventure playground, the soccer goalposts, and the tiny basketball court, all neatly laid out beside a sprawling one-story elementary school.

“I sat in that swing,” said Folly. “There was a puddle on the ground under it, and my feet got wet.”

“And before that?” I learned that Folly was more comfortable answering questions when we were not face to face. We slowed to a stop and but she did not release her grip on me. I could feel her cheek pressed against my back.

“I— “

“Folly, think now.”

“Everyone died,” she said. “I ran home! And they were dead, too.”

“Where? Which way is home?” This was as far as we’d ever gotten, and I felt it was our last chance to find Folly’s house and get her memories back.

She had the bad memories. The inside of her head was a once a safe garden, but the garden was now overgrown with thorns and weeds and their alien blooms, choking out the lilac and brilliant pinks of the hydrangea and the lime leaves of the ninebark, twining around her thin legs freezing her in place.

I could feel her trembling, and resisted the urge to comfort her. “Which way, Folly?”

“The lane, go down the lane.”

The lane was surfaced in gravel, which resisted and spit and almost caused me to lose control, but I slowed down and we passed by the leafy green back yards of homes that had once housed Folly’s neighbours and friends. She’d told me her house was yellow, and there was only one yellow house, at the end of the lane, on the corner.

“Go in the back way,” said Folly. We got off the bike and opened the gate, stepping into a tidy green garden with a mature ornamental cherry tree, masses of sumac starting to change color, and a small pup tent set up on the flat lawn.

“This is the way you went to school, and to the park?” I asked her.

She nodded. She was wearing a fleece hoodie that was too big for her and fit more like a dress, and denim leggings with rubber boots. Her hair was uncombed and tangled from the bike ride. She was deathly pale.

The gate had a rusted metal bell on it, that clanged when it was shut, no doubt meant as an alert for Folly’s mother or father. The lawn, once carefully tended grass, was now a ground cover of what looked like thyme.

She didn’t look in the pup tent on her way to the back porch, but I did. Inside was a rumpled tartan blanket and a flashlight.

Large-leafed ivy climbed the exterior walls of the house, drooping down over the doorway, which was probably not there the last time she was here.

It was unlocked. I let Folly lead the way, silent. This was her moment, her most important moment, and she had to face it alone and on her own terms. What could I do? A big stupid teenager who knew nothing of her family, her past, what she’d lost. I knew my own loss and I had some idea of what was churning around in her gut, but comfort could only come later.

The house was smaller than the one I grew up in, with the traditional separate, somewhat small rooms: kitchen, dining room, small formal living room, and a very untidy family room. On the floor and tables were boxed games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, open and the contents scattered about the room. There were towels, too, crumpled on the couch, and a bookcase with a full set of encyclopaedias, something I’d never seen before.

Folly picked up a towel and smelled it. She put it down again.

“I know my name now,” she said.

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Mockingbird

Prompt: Flavor

baby doll

“Look at his tiny toes,” said Mama.

I looked at its toes, they were tiny; it was tiny, smaller than my baby doll, and just as bald. its face was tiny and wrinkled, its eyes were tightly shut as if it was in pain.

When I poked it in the tummy (when Mama wasn’t looking) it didn’t cry. I could wrap my whole hand around its foot or its hand and it would disappear in my fist.

“He is so tiny and beautiful,” said Mama, not to me, but to someone else. Jesus? She held it up against her face, breathing it in.

I wasn’t tiny, not any more, not yet. Mama didn’t notice when I stopped eating. She put my cheese sandwich and fruit salad on the table. She fed it milk from her breast. She put Kentucky Fried Chicken and coleslaw in cardboard tubs on the table. She took it to the changing table and wiped its bum with a soft white cloth. She gave me a dixiecup full of vanilla ice cream and a small wooden paddle to eat with. She rocked it in her arms, walking round and round, singing “Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird”.

When I fell asleep at school, Mama said, “I’m sorry, kitty, baby kept you awake.” I didn’t hear it cry at night. It slept in Mama’s bed.

Gramma came to stay. She held it, saying, “He is so tiny!” And then she saw me watching, and took me out to the front porch, where there was a bench, and we sat down, and she took me into her lap.

“You are thin,” Gramma said. I squirmed. “What’s wrong with your eyes, kitty?” She put her face close to mine. My eyes had fallen inside my head so I could hardly see out.

Gramma wrapped me up in her arms and I disappeared, just like its tiny foot disappeared in my fist.

Gramma brought me something that moved. It was covered in soft grey fur, striped, with ears too big for its head and a tiny nose and tiny paws. It was warm and purred when I held it to my chest.

“What will you call him?” Gramma asked me.

“Moon,” I said.

“What shall we call the baby?” Mama asked me.

He wrapped a tiny hand around my finger. “Can we call him Joe, same as daddy?”

“We can,” said Mama.

Devotion

Prompt: Inhabit

fish

My given name is Adolph G. Zenith, though my friends always called me Zen. The “G” means nothing; my parents merely thought it gave my name more gravitas, and lacked the imagination, I suppose, to find a suitably, equally formidable middle name to compliment “Adolph”, and that also started with G, George, Gregory, Gerald notwithstanding. But my parents were busy people, and did not have the time or inclination to pour over baby name books. So Adolph G. Zenith it was.

You might have heard of the Zenith family. We were frequently in the news for a groundbreaking campaign for science- and bible-backed eugenics. My parents were large, powerful people who tried to live as they preached: god-fearing, white-proud, “true” Christians. Both were tall and muscular, infused with presence and charisma. Hopes for me, their son, were high.

I was not even remotely a formidable child. Instead I was plagued by allergies, was asthmatic, was very thin with delicate skin prone to dryness and sunburn, and had sparse, ash brown hair. Hardly the model Aryan boy my parents so vehemently wished for. We travelled the country, and sometimes ventured overseas, attending rallies where my father spoke for hours at a time, sometimes replaced by my mother when he needed a drink or a bathroom break, and I was to stand proudly behind him with his “stage staff”, looking young and strong in a blue slacks and a white shirt and a blue blazer.

My father would take his jacket off, revealing a short-sleeved shirt, and loosen his tie, to demonstrate that he was a man of the people, sweating, passionate, and powerful; but I was not permitted to remove the blazer no matter what the temperature, because the shoulder pads were sewn into the jacket, without which I would look like the underweight, bony, fragile child I was. More than once my mother had to hustle me off the stage before I fainted in front of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.

They tried to bulk me up with red meat, which I was fed at least twice a day; and some fruit juices which they heard were “cleansing”, but except for potatoes there was not much in the way of vegetables set before me because they personally did not find them appealing. I was allowed sugary drinks and pastries, but nothing in my diet seemed to change my core appearance. I was not a poster child for their movement and never would be.

I grew up under a cloud of palpable disappointment, a daily routine of sighs, eye rolls, impatient instruction, and whispered, disapproving comments. I could read at an early age, and was good at spelling, and had a knack for model building and climbing trees, but not at running, swimming, aerobic exercise, weight-lifting, growing tall and blonde, or understanding or explaining the philosophy of race purity and pride.

My father was not averse to a good whack across my temple with a meaty, open hand if I transgressed, sometimes knocking me to the floor. “It’s for your own good,” my mother would say, as if I didn’t know.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the dogma or the philosophy of my father’s speeches. I developed an ability to completely tune out whatever came out of my parents’ mouths, possibly as a defence mechanism, since they often brutally smothered or slandered things that were important to me, like my love of rock and roll, my satanic curiosity about parapsychology, my devotion to fishing, and my friend René. To survive long evenings on the stage, to avoid a wallop across the head, to attempt to build a core that I recognized as me, I would zone out and travel in my mind, float across oceans, relive kind moments, play scenes from films in my head, try and communicate with René across the miles.

As a teenager, I was able to worm out of many of the stage performances, if not the sermons and some of the prominent, televised protest marches. I was still thin and unthreatening, but I was quick and newly certain that everything my parents did and said was wrong, as teenagers are, except that I felt righteous and outraged and on the side of the true god.

Zenith was not our real name. Father had it officially changed when he learned his heritage. “I’m not a Jew,” he said, “not even close, it’s passed down through the mother, my mother was not a Jew.”

“You have Jew blood,” I said, using the only phrase I knew, which now makes me cringe.

I was sixteen, and about to be kicked out of the house. He had confiscated my cellphone and laptop in order to confirm that I had not been communicating with undesirable people, and that I had no porn nor access to porn. I was angry; more painful than the anger was the loneliness I felt without being able to text René or visit the forums that connected me to a greater world

“I have no Jew blood,” my father said, and his face flushed, and his eyes darkened. I tensed and flexed, ready to dodge a blow.

“Nothing wrong with Grampa’s blood,” I said defiantly. Grampa was a grumpy old thing, dead six years, but he was kind to me, and never hit me but once.

“You’re an ignorant fool, always have been,” said my father.

“Thanks,” I said, and instinctively ducked. For the first time, my father’s hand missed my face. He looked startled, and I felt a surge of power and confidence. This was new to me.

But I was not quick enough to avoid the next blow, which was a closed fist against my upper cheek. I fell to the floor.

“Respect,” my father said.

From the floor, I said the most hurtful thing I could think of: “Grampa’s blood is in you, you are a Jew.”

My father kicked my shoulder, hard, and I fell on my back.

He spoke to me then, in a dangerously low voice, about how the “Jew blood” had been flushed from his system, pint by pint, and he was pure, but somehow bad blood had infested me, his son. I’d heard this before, though hadn’t thought he meant it literally, which he had.

“I’m a Jew,” I said. “Thanks to you.”

He kicked my in the mouth, ostensibly to silence me, and that’s when my mother appeared from upstairs, and saw the beating had been taken too far, and banished me to my room without checking where the blood was coming from.

I didn’t ever get my phone or laptop back. And yes, I’d been communicating with undesirable people and looking at porn, so chances are I would have been booted out anyway.

Ten years later, in Portland, Oregon, I met a girl name Addy, and changed my name to Ted (short for Teddy, short for her nickname for me, “Teddy Bear”) Rickman (a family name on my Grandpa’s side), and was able to renew my friendship with René before he died.

As far as I know, my parents never tried to contact me or see what became of me. They continued touring for a while, then settled down with a congregation in a town called Green Falls, which they hoped (according to an obscure news article I found) to convert to an all-white, all Christian community. I heard nothing more, nor do I look anymore.

I supposed I was erased from their lives, and no longer inhabited their consciousness or their memories. They had the kind of minds that could exclude anything painful or conflicting or unpleasant.

I don’t have that kind of mind.

I think of them daily.

Rejection

Prompt: Ooze

cell phone new message
Language warning

Wendy was busy that night; in fact she actually did have to wash her hair, having had an altercation with a beehive, a subsequent application of ointments to her scalp, and a seven a.m. shift the next morning.

Colin, who had thought it was time to move beyond the random texting, was not well-pleased by her response.

“You cunt,” he texted. “Your too fat anyway. I was only feeling sorry for you.”

Wendy had a long soak in a hot bathtub, pleased to have clean hair, happy to have avoided a date with Colin, tired and relatively content, until she logged into Facebook, from bed, on her laptop.

“I hope your raped and sodomized by a gorilla,” said the post from Colin Gibbons. She hadn’t known his last name until that moment. His grammar and spelling were below par.

“I know where you live, bitch,” he wrote. “I can see you. My friends wanna fuck you too.

Even though your a fat cow.”

Wendy blocked and banned his account, but not before he posted a picture of a woman performing a sexual act on a donkey.

After work the following morning, the red light on the land line phone blinked, indicating there was a message waiting. She decided not to listen to the message, and deleted it.

She looked out the apartment window and saw a man with a camera. Perhaps he was taking pictures of the building for a rental listing, as she knew several units were coming available at month’s end.

Her cousin Amos called her on her cell, and having checked her on Facebook, asked if she was all right. Wendy burst into tears.

“Don’t tell anyone,” she said, “But I am not all right.”

“Don’t tell anyone?”

“If they know how scared I am, how hurt and demoralized and disillusioned and how much I want to crawl into a dark hole and hide… they would be happy, they win.”

“They? This was Colin Something.”

“Add Louis, Carl, Roger A., and a few others I am trying to forget, and you have a picture of my life since February.”

Amos begged her to be safe, then logged off his phone and set it gently on the counter. Seven threats, seven attacks, since February? It seemed unlikely. Was she being too sensitive? Perhaps she should be a little more careful, a little more diplomatic when she turned a guy down?

Wendy considered deleting her Facebook account, once and for all. She considered avoiding nights out with her friends, or any social engagements where she might meet someone. Maybe she would avoid contact for a little bit. But she vowed not to delete her Facebook account. That would mean they won.


When Women Refuse

Good Enough

Prompt: Hidden

chex mix 1

“An engagement ring is hidden somewhere in the apartment,” said Bob. “See if you can find it before everyone arrives.”

Envy put her purse on the counter. “What?” she said.

Bob was hanging their jackets in the closet near the front door. He turned and smiled at her. “Surprised?”

“We never talked about this, not even remotely,” said Envy.

“No, and it’s time we did. Don’t you want to marry me?”

“I never thought about it for a moment,” said Envy.

“So now you are thinking about it.”

“You can do better, you said so on our first date.”

Bob joined her at the black granite topped kitchen island. “I did say that. It was awhile ago and I’m sorry I upset you, I already apologized.”

“But you don’t deny it!”

“You are unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I love you. Please marry me and be my wife.”

At least he’d learned, since they started dating, to not always offer his Radical Honesty unsolicited. That was something, surely. He was, except for his inflexible, uncomfortable bluntness, an impressive package. Handsome, fit, smart, well-read, funny, strange— Envy liked interesting people. But how did this happen?

“What makes you think I want to marry you?” she asked.

“We have fun, the sex is unique, you’ve indicated you care deeply and I’ve just told you how I feel,” said Bob. “You like marriage. You love loving and being loved.” He got two bowls from a cupboard, and bags of chips and nuts from the kitchen pantry. “I think I have some smoked salmon, somewhere…”

“My ex—“

“–lied and cheated and tried to kill you, blah blah, I know,” said Bob.

“Blah blah?”

“You had good times, sometimes.”

Envy considered getting her coat and simply leaving, never mind the impromptu after-dinner party she and Bob had initiated. She watched him overfill the snack bowls. Chex Mix littered the counter and spilled onto the floor.

“Envy, you don’t think you are pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to be happy and loved. I think you are.”

She had always, always harboured a suspicion that Bob didn’t really, all the time, tell the honest truth, that he was sometimes the opportunist, that he was not averse to a sweet lie that might forward his agenda, though his agenda was never revealed. She felt her distrust wash over over her in a wave.

“Pumpernickel or melba toast to go with the salmon?” Bob asked.

“My parents don’t like you,” said Envy.

“I’m not all that thrilled with them.”

Envy was shaken; she went to the fridge and pulled out the ubiquitous chilled white wine; then to the cupboard above the dishwasher where he kept his stemmed glasses. In one of the glasses, something caught the light.

“I knew it wouldn’t take you long to find it,” said Bob.

It was a wide band of gold with three inlaid rubies.

“I’m against diamond mining,” he said.

“I know,” said Envy. It slipped comfortably onto her ring finger. “If someone else had found it, would you have been engaged to them?”

“I guess so,” said Bob. “Unless it was that lame-brained brother of yours.”

The phone buzzed, and Bob picked up and listened. “Speak of the devil,” he said to Envy as he pressed the button under the receiver. “They’re here, and so are Stuart and Greg.”

“I don’t know if you truly love me,” said Envy.

“Forget about me,” said Bob. “How do you feel?”

Envy rinsed the glass that held the ring, then filled it with wine. She ate a salted Cheerio and took a long sip. Someone pounded on the apartment door; Cash, probably. He really could be lame-brained sometimes. Bob ignored the noise and waited.

“I don’t know,” said Envy. “But I’m keeping the ring.”

Bob laughed, and opened the door.

Test Drive

Prompt: Fragrance

Terracotta Army figure

The inside of the car smelled like wax. That’s because the heater was broken and constantly blasting hot air, no matter what the outside temperature, which on that day in May was about 15 degrees celsius. So they drove through the flatlands with the windows down, trying their best to direct the vents away from skin surfaces, smelling the melted wax from the intricate and expensive souvenir candles hand-carved in the shape of six soldiers from the Terracotta Army of Xian, which Cash had purchased as gifts for his parents. They were now puddles of fragrant wax on the back seat of the car.

His guide and translator, Su, was fluent in English and was telling him a little about the history of the region through which they were traveling, but Cash was so warm that he drifted off to sleep, his head lolling against the seat back, and he started to dream that he was a bird flying high above the plains, with a massive wingspan, so huge it cast giant shadows on the land below, and then on the towns and then the cities, where towers were so high that they brushed his bird belly. He then had to navigate then between the spires and cell towers and flagpoles of a dense, sprawling city, until he suddenly realized he was not in control any more; that someone else was controlling his flight, dodging between dark buildings, like a teenager with a joystick.

“She smells like ra-ain,” sang Leep. He sang the song because he saw the ad. The television commercial was for a Toyota Corolla, so that’s what Leep was test-driving this week. He decided (as if he didn’t make the same decision every week) to drive past Beth’s house on Sandalwood Street, just to see if she was home or maybe catch a glimpse of her working in the front garden. If she saw the car cruising down her street, Beth (or as he called her, in his head, Lizzy) would never know it was him, as on any one weekend he might be test driving a Chevrolet Equinox, or a Ford Mustang, or a Toyota Corolla.

There was no one in the garden, where daffodils clustered all along the front porch, and the curtains were drawn, which was unusual.

Leep had only had his driver’s license for two years, and was not a bad driver, but nor was he very experienced or equipped to handle unexpected road conditions. That’s why when tires of his Corolla hit patch of oil only a block from the dealership, Leep yanked the wheel to the left to avoid colliding with a stop sign, skidded violently, and ended up ramming the stop sign with the passenger side of the car. “It could have been worse,” said Todd, the Toyota salesperson, who was astonishingly indifferent. Leep wished he had the money to buy a car. He would have bought a car from Todd on the spot, if he had.

Cash and Su waited outside the car for the ambulance to arrive, which might take awhile. The motorcyclist who had rammed into the passenger side door, narrowly missing Cash’s abdomen, was standing with them, chatting idly with Su. The driver of the motorcycle was clearly at fault, said Cash to Su, who shrugged her shoulders. “Perhaps we stalled too long at the intersection,” she said.

“We didn’t,” said Cash. “He clearly saw us making the turn and didn’t slow down at all. In fact, he might have accelerated. Why did you call an ambulance? He looks fine to me.”  Su didn’t respond, and he felt a flush of anger and frustration. The motorcyclist, meanwhile, took a sip of something from a metal flask, then offered it to Cash. Cash shook his head impatiently. The flask was not offered to Su.

After the motorcyclist disappeared in the ambulance and the police had arrived and taken names and measurements, Cash and Su were allowed to continue their journey. He had to climb into the car from the driver’s side, since the passenger door was mangled and dented shut. It was uncomfortable, but still roomier than the back seat, where the puddle of wax had fallen to the floor.

The hot air blasted through the vents, and the wind blew in through the open windows, tossing Su’s hair in all directions and irritating Cash’s contact lenses.

“It smells like rain,” said Su.

Chimney Pines

Prompt: Dormant

field of daisies

Welcome to Chimney Pines.

To keep our community verdant, clean, and enjoyable for all, please observe the following regulations:

  1. No smoking in public areas or near doorways.
  2. Sidewalks must be cleared of snow, leaves, dirt, sand, and footprints at all times.
  3. No trees above 7’ in height. No fruit trees. Positively no evergreen trees of any kind, as they shed needles and attract vermin.
  4. No flags containing colors other than red, white, and/or blue.
  5. No flagpoles.
  6. Community board members are elected. Please contact the community office in person for information regarding nominations, campaigning, campaign funding, debate schedules, signage (not permitted), and legal matters. Legal advice is provided without prejudice and is not binding.
  7. Community board members must be over eighteen (18) years of age, and under ninety-five (95) years of age, except with a doctor’s note.
  8. No open fires, indoors or out. No gas fires.
  9. No brick siding, protuberances, or outbuildings.
  10. External door jambs must conform to community standards. Color information and color wheels available at the community office during office hours, 10 am – 3:30 pm. Paint available from Fred Armor’s Building Supplies, on the corner of Maple and Signature Streets, approximately six blocks from the community gates.
  11. No potluck dinners in the community hall, as we are not insured for food-related deaths.
  12. No patterned window coverings.
  13. No bird feeders, as they attract squirrels.
  14. Pets permitted on a case by case basis.
  15. No dogs.
  16. No cats.
  17. No birds.
  18. No rodents or rodent-like animals, or animals the size or texture of rodents.
  19. No bouncy castles.
  20. Fences must conform to community standards. Plans and photographs are available at the community office during office hours. All fence-related products should be purchased at Fred Armor’s Building Supplies, or contact Fred Armor in Unit 2.
  21. No daisies of any kind permitted in view from streets, sidewalks, or helicopters.
  22. No overt displays of affection, including kissing, amorous hand-holding, hugging excessively, sexual intercourse, or licking. Bare feet are permitted during summer hours— seasonal information pamphlet available at the community office.
  23. No formal hats after April 2, even if it falls on a Friday. Straw sunhats and some baseball caps are allowed— seasonal hat information available at the community office except during lunch time hours.
  24. No quoting from political or religious sources, unless complete context is clearly presented.
  25. Ice cream trucks must register at the community office, and may be required to obtain a community work permit. Cash only.
  26. No sirens.
  27. No bulbs or any plantings that require dormancy.
  28. Swimming in the pool is permitted. Pool maintenance is ongoing and may cause temporary pool closure. Please do not contact the community office about pool closures.
  29. No running, spitting, hitting, horseplay, loud noises, or confusing facial expressions at the pool, or anywhere.
  30. No student drivers, learners, or neophytes of any kind permitted on community property.
  31. Only male service animals are allowed on the premises.
  32. Cheese products are not necessarily real cheese, and may not contain dairy products. For information about real cheese, send a written request to the community office.
  33. Logical fallacies are frowned upon. Apply only when outside of community property.
  34. Grandparents permitted on a case by case basis.

Thanks for choosing Chimney Pines!

–F. Armor, Board Chairman