Seasonal Mushrooms

Prompt: Lollipop

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Jack wore a toupee that was obviously a toupee. It perched uneasily on the top of his head, the dark brown sides not quite blending in with the lighter brown of his own hair at the temples. The problem was, Benni noticed this on their first date but said nothing; now it was too late to point out that the hairpiece “wasn’t working” the way Jack or God intended.

They both ordered a scallop, lemon and sun-dried tomato entree, but when the server set the plates of food in front of them, it was obvious the sun-dried tomatoes were absent. There was nothing red or reddish in the dish at all. Jack had the grace to mention this to the waiter with great dexterity.

“Well now, Jason is it? Jason this looks delicious, but it seems to be lacking an ingredient that was delectably described in the menu, which is to say, sun-dried tomatoes.”

Jason sighed, audibly. “We’re out of them in the kitchen. I can take it back, look for something resembling a sun-dried tomato, insist that it is one, and you eat a lie; or you can sit back and enjoy the scallops which are just fine without the sun-dried tomatoes.”

Benni said, “I would like the dish as described, and if that is not available I will have the Steak with Seasonal Mushrooms, medium rare, thank you, Jason.”

A louder sigh than the first one ensued. Jason begrudgingly swept up the two plates and left silently, rolling his eyes.

“What a dickhead,” said Benni. She wore a new dress, black and white, the pattern of which inadvertently made her look like a French maid. Benni noticed this had a slimming effect, but Jack’s first impression was that she was in costume. He said nothing except that she looked very nice, which she really did.

“I’m guessing they are out of Seasonal Mushrooms,” said Jack.

“I trust your intuition. There was a taco truck on the other side of the parking lot…?”

As they crossed the tarmac to Tio’s Tacos’ (sic) Benni was rooting around in her black leather bag for some cash, since Jack confessed that he had none in his wallet, they heard footsteps and shouting from the back entrance to the restaurant.

“Hey you mo-fuckers!” It was the unmistakeable voice of Jason. He was waving a small slip of paper as he made what appeared to be a hostile approach. Jason was not a very tall man, but had the broad shoulders and meaty forearms of someone who worked out regularly. In truth, he had a girlfriend who was an employee at the women’s gym, She-Shape, who let him in during off-hours to use the equipment, providing he wiped it down carefully after use, which he usually did.

“Thank you Jason, for coming to say good-bye, and we do apologize for our abrupt departure, yet we are no longer motivated to eat any of the food you serve.”

“See this?” said Jason, as if he hadn’t heard Jack’s heartfelt apology. “This says, four dollars for one Shirley Temple and five-fifty for one rye and coke, seven dollars for one side salad with apples and nine-ninety-nine for the meatball/quinoa skewer, and fifty-two dollars for two Steaks with Seasonal Mushrooms, medium rare.” He put his nose only inches from Jack’s, and then slipped the receipt between them so Jack could clearly read it if he crossed his eyes.

“What are the Seasonal Mushrooms?” Benni asked.

Jason broke eye contact with Jack and stared at the French maid. “They are seasonal, out of a can, because there aren’t any growing, so they are seasonal canned mushrooms, and they are fine, as they are still mushrooms,” he growled.

“We felt the food and service lacked any justification for giving you money,” said Jack.

“Well that’s just too damn bad,” said Jason. He grabbed Benni’s purse out of her hand, found her wallet, and started pulling five and ten dollar bills from the banknote compartment. Benni simultaneously reached for her wallet and the cash, and a brief struggle ensued.

Jack then kicked Jason directly on the back of both knees, causing him to pitch forward, at which time Jack swiftly pivoted so that he could punch him in the forehead.

Instead of indulging in tacos, Jack and Benni quickly decided to get into Jack’s car and leave the parking lot while Jason was sputtering, spitting, and incapacitated.

Jack’s apartment was more professionally decorated than Benni would have expected or imagined. Muted, neutral tones combined with splashes of blinding colour, like a neon lime cushion on the grey sofa, and an original abstract oil painting in dizzying shades of yellow hung on the wall over the fireplace.

The kitchen had a concrete counter top, which Benni loathed despite best intentions. “I don’t like it, either,” said Jack, as he filled a stainless steel pot with water and set it to boil.

They had spaghetti with sardines and chick peas, which was better than it sounded, and sat out on the small balcony with their dessert Fudgsicles and coffee.

Later, Benni saw an ideal moment to bring up the bad toupee. They were having rather rough first-time sex in Jack’s king size bed, and in a moment of passion, Benni grabbed the hair at the back of Jack’s head and vigorously pulled, while gasping, “Oh Jack, oh Jack.”

Jack shouted in pain, and the hair did not come away. They stopped, and chests heaving, stared at one another. “I’m sorry,” said Benni. Jack’s hair was a mess, a strange blend of colours, and his own.

“You are not the first one to do that,” said Jack.


Chocolate Chips

Prompt: Tailor

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“Your mother wants to be a spy?”

“She keeps applying,” said Chai. She gave her younger brother Flax, who’d been walking quietly beside her on the leash for the past few minutes, a chocolate chip. She read that when leash-training dogs, anyway, that the trick was positive reinforcement. You correct bad behaviour but do not punish. You reward good behaviour, which in Flax’s case was an occasional chocolate chip.

“How do you apply?” Jon asked.

“They give you tests. But they hire people who already work for the government, and so she’s also trying to land a federal job.”

Chai felt the odd drop from an unthreatening rain shower. It was cooling, refreshing. The walks home after picking up Flax from nursery school were so much less stressful now, and Jon was easy company. She would offer him a sandwich when they got to her house— far from the delights of Carly’s basement, but the best she could do.

Chai said, “She has an interview at the federal prison.”

“I thought she was a teacher.”

“She is, but she wants to be a spy.”

“What is her actual name?”

“Her actual name? You mean her name name?” Chai slipped a milk chocolate chip into Flax’s mouth and ruffled his hair. “You are such a good boy, Flax! Poppy. My mother’s name is Poppy.”

“Why is everyone except you named after a seed? There’s Poppy, Pumpkin, Flax, and then you.”

“Well, legend has it that as first born, I was a giant pain. Long labour, painful delivery, complications all around. She tells me about it every so often.” Chai shrugged. “When it came time to write my name on the form, she got confused. She was tired and drugged; apparently they drugged mothers. Painkillers. I’m lucky I’m not addicted to morphine.”

“No kidding.”

“My father was no help.”

“Why not?”

“He was drugged too. In fact they had to admit him around the time my mother was discharged.”

“Your family is kind of interesting, compared to mine,” said Jon.

“So that’s why I’m named after a tea instead of a seed,” said Chai.

Flax stopped in his tracks. “Come on, kiddo,” Chai said, tugging ever so gently.

In one expulsion, Flax emptied the contents of his stomach onto the sidewalk. It was chocolatey brown.

“I’ll try baby carrots next time,” said Chai.


Chocolate Milk

Prompt: Caper

crosswalk graphic

Why hadn’t she thought of this before?

When ever she picked up her brother Flax from Sunny Sun Pre-School at 3:45 pm, he was a fireball of energy, because he’d been awoken from a long nap at 3:30 pm, was over his drowsies, and now wanted to find the world and change it, in the way almost-three year-olds do. His caretakers always smiled at her during the hand-over, with something like pity but not quite pity, because mostly they felt relief. She was an energetic teenager who’d only just come from a leisurely day at school, not a professional child-minder who’d had a very long, very exhausting day with hyperactive toddlers who tended to test the limits of reality and patience.

Never mind that Chai was tired too, dehydrated from dry, too-warm classrooms, dulled by robotic teachers, stressed by social angst, possibly on her period, and unable to study with Jon and Carly in Carly’s basement because she had to pick up her younger brother from Sunny Sun. She then faced a ten minute walk home, where she played the role of border collie to Flax’s herd of sheep. He had an uncanny talent for slipping his tiny hand out of hers and tearing off somewhere, trailed by Chai with her backpack heavy with textbooks and an uneaten lunch.

So this time, as soon as they were out of the nursery, she slipped his unsuspecting arms through a sea blue nylon harness, and clipped a leash to it.

“No, you don’t,” she said to Flax, as he raced to the end of the lead, lost his balance, and fell on his ass. He didn’t cry. He tried it again, and fell again. Chai shortened the leash so that the abrupt fall at the end was less violent, and Flax, bless his tiny brain, kept trying until Chai crouched down in front of him, took his flawlessly smooth cheeks between her hands, and said “Baby boy, you are tied to me now, see? You can’t just run off. See this?” (Holding up the loop at the end of the leash, wrapped around her wrist.)

Flax said, “Fuck this!” just the way their mother said it. He didn’t talk a lot, but when he did he was expressive.

He then earnestly tried to separate himself from the harness, with no success, since the clip between his shoulder blades kept the truss in place.

“Pretend you’re a doggie,” Chai suggested. “Want to go to the doggie park?”

Flax paused for a moment, then shook his head and looked, surprisingly, like he might cry or have a tantrum.

“Let’s just get home,” said Chai pleasantly, standing up again, taking his hand, and stepping into the crosswalk. Flax bolted, right into the path of an old, green Chrysler Imperial with out of state license plates, which was making a right hand turn.

Chai found that legendary super-human strength and yanked the leash so fast and so hard that Flax flew over her head and landed on a grassy boulevard behind her. Toddlers are like drunks, loose and flexible, so he broke no bones, nor suffered any injury but a bruised elbow and upper arm.

The driver of the Chrysler was less fortunate. Chai held Flax under her left arm, and with her right hand she reached into her backpack, took out the heavy, warm glass bottle of chocolate milk she hadn’t consumed at lunch, and smashed it into the driver’s side window. The window didn’t break but inexplicably popped, and warm sludge covered the driver’s glasses and dribbled down his nose, which Chai then punched.

Their mother was actually home before them this Thursday because of a stray dog on the school grounds, and as she dumped chicken pieces, potatoes, and capers into a sheet pan, while checking email on her cell phone, asked, “How was school today, my chickens?”

“Chai killed someone with chocolate milk,” Flax, out of the harness, said in a sentence that broke his world record for syllables.

“That’s nice, honey,” said their mother, setting down a bottle of olive oil and impatiently stabbing a few letters on the screen with her forefinger. “Oh, more spam. Fuck this!”

Pity

Prompt: Savage

fragonard woman with dog

“Pity!” Eleanor called. “Pity! Where are you?” She didn’t know whether to go left or right. “Pity! Where have you gone?”

Pity was about six blocks away. She heard the children’s voices from the Theodore T. Buttz-Montgomery Elementary School. They were on recess, and the squealing from the playground both attracted and frightened Pity, who could not resist moving a little closer.

Poppy Donovan stood on the concrete at the edge of the basketball court, looking out at the Adventure Playground, as they called it, though it was mainly a series of ladders and platforms painted bright blues and yellows. She was a substitute teacher, here today by virtue of Mrs Simmons contracting food poisoning from a chicken taco. Poppy would have liked full time work, but with three children aged three, ten, and seventeen, she had only a few hours a week to spare. She loved teaching, and at her in-home job as a kind of telephone companion, she often found herself dropping interesting facts about history or geography, much to her clients’ confusion.

In ancient Greece the courtesan Neaera, was so beloved by her patrons they organized to buy her freedom. From then on she gained the honorific, “Herself mistress of herself.”

She was a fierce parent to her children, savagely protective, and these children, laughing and running and climbing, were her children for the day. So when she saw Pity, not even half a block away, approaching slowly with her head down, she momentarily froze.

The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of the so-called bully breeds often labeled a pit bull. In fact, “pit bull” isn’t a breed, but a term used to describe the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Bull Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Height: 1 foot, 5 inches to 1 foot, 7 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 30 to 85 pounds
Life Span: 12 to 16 years

Poppy Donovan approached the Adventure Playground, saying in a steady but firm voice. “Children, move back into the classroom now.”

Young voices rose and squealed and cajoled.

Pity raised her ears, looked up, and caught Poppy’s eye.

Human beings involuntarily give off chemicals called pheromones when they are alarmed. Because a dog’s sense of smell is thousands of times more sensitive than ours, most likely a dog can detect those chemicals.

Walk, don’t run,” said Poppy.

Pity saw action, movement, and a tall thin woman staring, and it looked interesting. She picked up her pace to a trot.

Poppy now had a greater distance to get to the door of the school than the distance between her and the dog. She screamed.

Pity barked. She pinned her ears back. She was confused.

Poppy made a run for it, and Pity continued her trot, and then heard Eleanor’s voice getting louder and louder as she ran down the street towards them.

“Pity! Pity, come!”

Eleanor had a leash, and clipped it to Pity’s collar. “Naughty girl,” she said, “running off like that.”

“I’m going to call the police,” Poppy said to Eleanor. “Your vicious dog put my children in danger.”

Pity the pit bull dropped to the ground and rolled over, exposing the breast nubs on her belly. Eleanor gave her a good scratch, for not running away before she could clip on the leash. Then she stood up straight and spoke directly to Poppy.

“Sorry you were scared. Pity is harmless, even when she’s frightened, which is a good thing in a dog. If you want to teach those kids to be frightened by something they don’t understand, instead of learning about it, then you are going about it the right way. C’mon, Pity.”

Poppy watched them skirt the basketball court and cross the parking lot to the sidewalk. They disappeared around a corner.

It only takes a brief look at the history of pit bulls to realize that the dogs are not the problem; the humans who misuse them are. For over a hundred years, holding the owners personally responsible was enough to prevent attacks, and the breed was perceived as very child-friendly. With outreach and education, it may be possible to restore that image and rehabilitate the pit bull’s reputation, restoring an iconic American dog to its rightful place among mankind’s best friends.


Another Kind of Heaven

Prompt: Passenger

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When he opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed was the smell. He smelled clean grass, and the pungent bark of trees, and he smelled the river. Yes, the scent of smooth rocks bathed by flowing water, the wet soil and sand of the river bank, and the roots of trees and the floating leaves and fish and frogs.

He coughed, and wiped something black from his lips, and remembered what he now did not smell: smoke, ash, gunpowder, blood, shit, fear, and decay.

Across from him, Sam sat awkwardly leaning up against a tree trunk, staring at his hands. Turning his hands over and examining the palms, and then the backs again, his fingernails lined in black like kohl on a whore. He was filthy, bloody, and thin.

“What happened, Sam?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “Where are we?”

Sam looked up. “I don’t know, Peter,” he said.

Wherever they were, Peter suspected Sam had got him there. He had a good idea of where they might be. Where they came from was hell. What could this be, but heaven?

“Can you hear the birds?” asked Sam.

Peter shook his head. The last thing he remembered was the thudding sound of artillery as he crested the ridge, bayonet in hand. Perhaps a shell had hit its mark. Perhaps he was blown to bits.

“Are there birds?”

“Yes, finches, meadowlarks,” said Sam. “There was a fat robin.”

“I can’t hear them.”

“Can you hear the river?”

“No, is it nearby? I can smell it.”

They were in a small copse of birch and poplar and pine, in a wide meadow of tall grass flanked by a forest, beyond which were hills, then mountains, then mountains dusted with snow.

His left calf was wrapped in strips of bloodied cotton sheeting. He wondered why he felt no pain. He did, suddenly, feel hungry.

Sam said, “I’ll get some water, and find something to eat, in a moment.” Then his head slowly nodded and his chin fell to his chest, his mouth partly open, snoring quietly. Both of them were intimate with exhaustion, and falling asleep instantly the minute it was quiet and safe was a survival strategy.

Peter was exhausted, but he wasn’t sleepy. He turned his head and felt the rough bark against his cheek. He pulled a handful of grass and weeds and brought it to his nose, inhaling deeply. He coughed again. He stared at Sam. He looked up at a cloudless sky.

Sam had brought him to this place, this heaven. Sam was a good man. The gates of heaven would be open to Sam.

Peter was a murderer, a thief, and a liar. How is it he was allowed to sit in the cool shade, breathing, alive?

He tried to get up, but collapsed against the tree again. He watched Sam, for an hour, or maybe two, until his own eyelids fluttered shut, and he was in another kind of heaven, the heaven of dreamless sleep.


Anniversary

Prompt: Cringe

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.

T-bob

Prompt: Illusion

bob hair style-Edit

When ear noodles, which required a 3D-space around and above the helix, became all the fashion, young girls started “stacking” or elongating the ear stem gradually, using string or thread. Because they wanted to hide this dangerous, somewhat deforming practice from parents and teachers, the T-bob became popular, and not just among the ear-stackers.

This presented Mimosa with an ethical problem. She was raised in a strict, Platonic (in the modern, 22nd century sense of the word, not the classical) household, where she learned rules and laws were made out of love, and disobedience caused heartbreak to those in power. She remembered the agonizing, aching remorse when her father concealed his etching income from the government. She remembered the tears of her parents when she refused to tell them what Grandpa said. Yes, she was to be obedient to Grandpa too, but her first allegiance was to her parents. Well, her second allegiance, really.

In any case, the fourteen-year old girl who sat staring at herself in the wall to wall mirror, her back to Mimosa, her hair long, thick, and curly, said, “A T-bob, please.” Mimosa ran her fingers through the girl’s hair. It was softer than it looked. She brushed it away from her face. There was a bandage around the left ear stem.

Not meaning to speak, Mimosa still said, “Oh dear.”

The girl, whose name was Lucy, looked sharply at Mimosa. She saw a short, pale, rather pudgy woman in her early twenties, who, like many hairdressers, had over-processed hair which desperately needed a trim; in this case, ash blonde in colour.

“I have to ask,” said Mimosa. “Do your parents know you are stacking?”

Lucy lowered her head, and Mimosa did not see the eye-roll. “Yes she does,” said Lucy, looking up again. “She says it’s up to me. When she was my age she got a blood tattoo, you know, right?” Mimosa hoped that tattoo was not readily visible. People wouldn’t hire you, not even for a grade C job, if you had a blood tattoo. The Plato Group had banned them, out of love and concern for the physical and mental health of the people.

“Well, this is permanent too,” Mimosa said, trying to avoid the tone and cadence of her mother’s voice, but failing. She heard her mother speak, as clearly as if she was inhabiting Mimosa’s body. “And Plato doesn’t want you to do it.”

Lucy said something about Plato that Mimosa stridently refused to hear, lest she had to report the girl. Then silence.

“Will you report me?” Lucy said suddenly. She looked around, she looked above the entrance door, where the recorders were usually placed. No one tried to hide them: What would be the point?

She looked at Mimosa, behind her, in the mirror. Even from a few feet away, Mimosa could see chocolate-coloured flecks in Lucy’s hazel eyes. They were pretty, and unusual. All around the hazel and chocolate there was white. Her own eyes were grey, like her mother’s, like her Grandpa’s eyes.

The room felt cold, and at that moment Jared, her business partner, burst into the shop, his lunch break over. “Hey Mim. And Lucy, isn’t it? I made the appointment. I’m Jared.”

Lucy did not look at him or smile. Jared paused, then went to the back lounge for a minute. Mimosa was still and quiet, her hands on the back of Lucy’s chair.

When Jared reappeared he strode to where the two young women were frozen in place.

“T-bob, Lucy? It would look fab. Mim, I’ll do it!”

“No,” said Mimosa. She put a large, clean white towel around Lucy’s shoulders, and picked up the brush again. “I will.”