Mary Jones

Prompt: Reprieve

strawberry cheesecake

She had a great palate and was executive chef for a large hotel chain, until she was accused of murdering her father, mother, brother, three aunts, their two sons, and the girlfriend of one of the sons.

Now that her lawyer and best friend had overturned her conviction, she changed her name and moved to a larger community, getting a kitchen job in a new restaurant with a strange name. There were surviving family members who might not agree with her reprieve from hanging, so it seemed best to dissolve into an anonymous landscape, at least for a time.

Mary Jones. That was her new name. She liked it. She liked her job in the restaurant kitchen, doing prep and clean up and dog’s body work. She loved the zen of julienning carrots, peeling potatoes, removing pin bones from filleted fish, keeping work surfaces sparkling clean and ready. She liked her boss, Hugo, who treated her with a distant professionalism which she found very attractive.

It was a busy Friday night dinner service when someone in the restaurant died suddenly. There were screams and cries from the dining room that Mary was the first to hear. Perhaps she was attuned to the sounds of pain. She was one of the first on the scene, finding a woman on the floor beside one of the white linen covered tables, a young man, possibly her son, crouched over her and howling like an animal.

She felt her adrenaline surge. That part was natural, wasn’t it?

The woman was taken away on a stretcher in an ambulance, as if she could come back to life. Mary knew death when she saw it. In fact, there was something about that night that spoke of epiphany.

Mary had a taste for death. There was no point in denying it, or looking the other way, or pretending otherwise. While she would never admit to murdering her extended family, she was not averse to admitting to the thrill of death.

It was a dangerous taste, like a craving for fugu, the Japanese dish prepared with extreme care lest the violently deadly parts of the fish should touch human lips. Mary had a craving for life fugu.

So when Hugo asked her to package up some mushroom fettuccine for his wife, a cop who was ill and recovering at home, Mary thought a little dose of arsenic, that old-fashioned poison, might liven things up, especially since during her arrest and pretrial incarceration, the police had been rather unsympathetic, choosing to believe she was guilty and treating her as such, even before the evidence presented at her trial. Hugo’s wife might be a very nice person, but a cop was a cop.

Hugo’s wife was too ill to eat that night, apparently, but was the poisoned dish put in the refrigerator for future consumption? Would Hugo be tempted and lazy one night, and fall ill? Would his weakened wife finally feel hungry and suffer a relapse, possibly a fatal one?

Mary waited. Have you ever had a craving, maybe for fresh buttered popcorn, or a rare steak, or strawberry cheesecake, or a Bloody Caesar cocktail? And had to wait—but know that eventually, what you crave will be before you, and that the first taste, the first bite, will be a little piece of bliss?

Mary knew that feeling. She had a new life and a new taste. She waited.

Who Gets the White?

Prompt: Impression


Hello Wednesday!

A family wedding took me away for a week, and now I come back to find I have to make a fresh impression– memories are short. They really are, in this world of Internet and social media, where instant gratification matters, longform is too demanding, and relationships are fleeting. Or so they say. Who actually knows how people use the resources of the Internet?

The assumption is that our fellow humans (not us, of course) are shallow and easily distracted, susceptible to click-bait, gullible, and undiscerning. Just because much of the content we find online is less than ethical, inane, “fake”, and, well, stupid, doesn’t mean that we the people are less than ethical, inane, “fake” and stupid. We learn. We are capable of perspective. We don’t have to be stupid.

This being Wednesday, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons? The first is tenuously linked to the word prompt, “impression”, by way of Impressionism; then we wander through wine pairings and end up with cupholders.

cartoon impressionist photo


cartoon fish beef wine


cartoon halo cup holder


Happy Wednesday (and every other day of the week)!

~~FP

Dinosaur Family Unit

Prompt: Qualm

dinosaur family

I have qualms. You have qualms. Everyone has qualms. When we look at the word, the letters of the word, we realize that qualm is a word that is illegitimate because it is misunderstood.

If qualm was a real word, it would be like a crusty fungus. It would a hymn sung in Latvian. Qualm would be the clump of grass that gets stuck under your shoe. Or what the friend does who lies and then pretends it was to protect you.

A qualm is a line of verse in a free form poem that does not stand alone. It is an oak barrel used too many times to age wine. It is a mysterious lump on the back of your dog that feels like a tick but isn’t. It’s that slight breath of air from the bathroom when someone didn’t turn the fan on. A qualm is a mathematical term, meaning the flaw in the formula no one wants to recognize.

Have you ever watched a movie, and then forgot the ending? That is a qualm. A qualm is what a dinosaur family unit was called. It is that part of outer space that looks empty, but only because our telescopes aren’t strong enough.

A qualm is a reassurance from a double agent. A qualm is the unit of salt you put on the rim of a Margarita glass. It’s the sum of the ages of all your closest friends.

It is the shape of a lightning bolt, the smell of a firecracker, the velvety touch of the inside of a cat’s ear, an echo in a small room, a bullet meant for someone else.

Qualm.


Pink

Prompt: Pink

pink mobile

Cash and Virginia agreed about one thing: they wanted the nursery for Echo to be pink. They liked pink. Virginia liked it in her design and decor projects and Cash— well one of his favourite press photos was of himself a the Doral tournament with all the pros in a group photo, and Cash in a pink golf shirt looking masculine and caring. People magazine online published the pic.

Virginia supported pink ribbon causes, though she had her doubts. Breast cancer “awareness”— what was that? Were there people unaware of breast cancer? Where did the money go? As a professional model she accepted, all the same, stipends to appear and run mini marathons; she promoted the cause, for a fee, on her social media accounts. It all felt strange. How could she push the issues of the pink ribbon without succumbing to trendy and meaningless promotions that did nothing but further the images of the corporations who sponsored them?

Cash made several trips to China. He hated being away from baby Echo, but he needed to get serious about his business and the Chinese manufacturers of the prototype and possibly the contract for the mass production of the Dinex (name pending) chair. His dad was doubtful and disdainful, and he wasn’t completely sure where Virginia stood on the launch. But there was a young woman who worked for one of his contact firms, a girl with black hair as slick as a snail’s trail, who wore a pink spaghetti strap dress and looked at Cash the way Virginia had during the weeks of their early courtship.

There was a baby girl named Echo. She lay in her crib, on her back. surrounded by pink and black mobile abstracts, poking her hands and feet in the air as she learned how to move her limbs. She cared nothing about pink, and everything.

Kill the Historians

Prompt: Pursue


Hello Wednesday!

The flowers and grasses and leaves and weeds are busting out this month, after a cold April. In winter the only glorious scents were evergreen and wood smoke; now we’re assaulted by the aromas of new green growth, dirt, barbecue, spring flowers, and cut grass.

That said, I sat on the patio and read, dog at my feet, for most of the afternoon, instead of raking and pulling out thistles. Don’t you love it when the air smells soft and clean? The pursuit of happiness is not mentioned in my country’s constitution, but I think happiness is so much easier to attain if you appreciate the truly special things in life. Like a day exactly like today.

Today’s word prompt is “pursue” and the first of my cartoons is tenuously connected to this theme. Still, if you think the cartoons are political, in light of what is going on in American politics, you might be right!

cartoon feline american


cartoon king legacy


cartoon world shareholders


Have a happy and productive spring.

~~FP

The Crisis

Prompt: Better

hospital monitor

The silence and darkness of this planet are almost unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one strangely homesick for the often intrusive 24-hour a day noises and lights of Earth. When I lived at Home some of my most memorable vacations were hikes in the deep woods, where the only sound was nature, and even nature turned the volume down overnight, and the only light was from a persistent moon. There was blackness and the silence of trees. Yet I longed for activity, lights, sounds.

Here on Beta Omega (no, we still haven’t agreed on a new name; we are so taken up with other duties of, well, colonizing a new planet) the 20-hour sun cycle grants us eight hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Ten in the evening is our midnight. The children are asleep well before midnight, and that accounts for a lot of the dark tranquility.

This imbalance, small as it may seem, has had a profound influence on me. And after the Crisis, the silence was as loud as an old SLS.

When she slept in for a few mornings, none of us were surprised. She has always been an active child, and trying to keep pace with her young half-brother (my son Radical) assured she was even more wildly busy during play times. And she is a growing child. Growing can be exhausting; we’ve all transversed growth spurts and strain on our organs and muscles. Angel, as perfect as she was, was no different.

When she collapsed, drained of color, it was not while playing Twistrun with Radical but while reading a book called The Blue Rabbit. Panicked and confused, I scooped her into my arms. Radical was using his quiet time to play a game on his tablet. I roughly grabbed his hand and rushed out of the library, stabbing the emergency button with my forehead on the way out.

Everyone, all of us, appeared in the corridors except for Rosa, who as first medical officer, made her way so swiftly to the lab that she awaited me as I carried Angel through the door, trailed by Radical and then the six others.

Rosa slammed on the quarantine doors. Only Radical and I were allowed to remain, since we’d already been exposed to whatever had felled our darling Angel.

Radical was strangely obedient, not moving from his chair when told to stay put. I helped Rosa as best I could— gently got Angel out of her play clothes and into the bed, held her while she was given the injection, and lifted limbs and hair while Rosa hooked the child up to a web of beeping and blinking monitors.

Then blood and tissue samples were taken. All the while Angel lay as if dead— pale, absolutely still, not even a fluttering of delicate eyelids. Naturally she looked tiny in the full-sized bed, dwarfed by billowing white pillows and sheets.

“What is it, Rosa?”

“I don’t know,” she said, starring at the station monitor. Results of tests cascaded down the screen. “Diagnosis is unclear, there is something like a measles virus apparent.”

“Which is impossible,” I said.

“Correct,” said Rosa. She conferred with Ed regarding the test results, sent him the data. He was a stymied as Rosa and the computer. She looked up from the computer. “You broke protocol. You shouldn’t have moved her.”

“I’m sorry, I panicked,” I said. Rosa turned to the monitor and frowned.

Radical was up and moving about the room. I went to him and led him back to the chairs. I gave him a pair of thin vinyl gloves to play with. He looked at them and then at me as if to say, “Really?”

What he did say was, “What about Angel?”

“Don’t know yet, honey,” I said. I crouched and gave him a hug. He smelled, inexplicably, like sage. He was as stiff and bony as ever— not the most huggable child I’d ever encountered, but he was mine. And Christopher’s. Christopher and Sara must be frantic. They would, I suspected, sacrifice anything to be here in this room with Angel, instead of me.

Rosa gave Radical and I both an injection; Radical didn’t cry. She jabbed herself, despite my offer.

Because of Angel’s high temperature, after a few hours Rosa and Ed decided to induce a coma, and so the child now had a precautionary oxygen mask over her nose and mouth as she lay there. I longed to hold her, console her, somehow send her a message of courage and hope, but she wouldn’t have heard me. She was in a personal battle that was as far from me and those who loved her as Earth was.

Radical went to her bedside, and kissed her upper arm near her elbow, since he couldn’t reach her forehead. “Don’t die, Angel,” he said. “I need you.”

It was a strange thing for a child to say, and I thought about it. I couldn’t sleep, anyway. I sat up with Angel overnight. The room was dimly lit, and the lights and graphs on the monitors streamed and blinked. There were humming noises, and separate, constant beeps. Radical was asleep on the cot, softly snoring as he often did.

I longed for the unbearable silence of an ordinary alien night.

Attitude Problem

Prompt: None


Dear Wednesday,

One of the earliest mystery stories I ever encountered was a black and white movie I watched on TV with my family, called And Then There Were None. I was enthralled with not just the high drama and bloodless murders, but the sheer suspense and wtf? Who could possibly be the killer? This was based on a novel by Agatha Christie, and should have started me on a long love affair with the mystery genre, but alas, except for a tween series about a group of Swedish teenage mystery-solvers, I didn’t return to reading hard core mysteries until I was in my 20s.

For reasons unknown I started reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey series. He was a dilettante, a snob, insufferably posh and upper class, sported a monocle, and was aided by his loyal manservant and by his lady friend, Harriet Vane. They were not terribly written, but what an odd choice for a first dive into the world of detectives. I stuck with the British-style stories because I favoured the manners and drawing room wit and yes, the lack of gory bloody sadistic murders, to the American-style hard-boiled detective, sexy blondes, and brutal crime scenes.

Probably my favourite American murder mystery to date is Scott Turow’s first novel, Presumed Innocent. It seemed everyone was reading it one summer, my friends and I  sharing our own theories about the plot and the guilty party— and we were all wrong!

I’ve enjoyed mostly British authors (except, funnily enough, Agatha Christie) like Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, Elizabeth George, Ngaio Marsh, and Ian Rankin; and lean towards political/spy mystery thrillers, especially by John Le Carré. Tinker Sailor Soldier Spy is an absolute classic!

One of the best things about mystery novelists? They generally write a series of books, so you know when one adventure ends, there is another delicious fat book awaiting.

As it is Wednesday, I’m including a selection of my favourite cartoons, the first of which is only tenuously related to today’s word prompt, “None”:

cartoon feminine qualities


cartoon attitude problem


cartoon goldfish


Have a happy and mysterious week!~~FP