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?

Crazy Dark Place [Repost]

Prompt: Fight or Flight

plain-blonde-doll

Charlotte arrived home just after four am, and Jamie was asleep. The house still stank of beer, so he’d had friends over. The furnace had clicked over into overnight temperatures, so the house was cold– that especially bitter, early morning cold.

She went into the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink. She used Palmolive dish detergent as soap, and scrubbed up as thoroughly as the surgeons she occasionally worked with. Her hands, she noticed were looking pink and raw but she was too tired for a shower, and needed to wash away the death and decay.

Jamie had cocooned himself in the sheets and blankets at one side of the bed. She had to wake him, or sleep in the cold.

When she awoke the next day, she had a meal that was neither breakfast nor lunch, an egg sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice, followed by a can of beer. Jamie had gone off to work, and she was due at the hospital in less than an hour.

She combed her hair, thinking it was too long. Who was she kidding? Her hair was pale blonde and thick and there was no grey showing, but she was no longer the bright young beauty that had attracted Jamie and so many others. She rubbed baby lotion on her arms and chest. She put concealer under her eyes. She thought of Cassie, who was the wife of one of Jamie’s friends. Charlotte would agree to the Super Bowl party Jamie kept talking about, so Cassie could visit too and they could chat and Charlotte would inevitably laugh, because Cassie always put things into perspective. Cassie seemed to enjoy making Charlotte laugh. The world was a crazy dark place, that was Cassie’s philosophy. Might as well face it and deal with the paralysis of life with energy and a sharp tongue.

Charlotte understood that. She felt paralyzed but lacked the energy or power to feel that she was more alive than the patients she treated, and not one of the walking dead. She wanted handsome Jamie back. She wanted the feel of a hero’s arms about her, warm and soothing. She wanted a flat stomach and trim waist, and clothes that fit. She wanted to be admired and yes, even pampered. Instead she was surrounded daily by the dying, and had to fight off thoughts that the happiness of those she served might be better fulfilled by a deep, permanent, peaceful sleep.

Jamie had a gig that evening, and Charlotte would miss it. While she she nursed a vague nostalgia for the once inseparable performer and muse, she didn’t mind, and neither did Jamie. He was hardly the rock star she had worshipped as a girl. He was a DJ in a small town now. He didn’t write songs anymore, or sing them. She was no longer his inspiration. He played whatever music his clients wanted, even country and western. Being the wife of an indifferent DJ was not the same as being the wife of a rock star. To be honest, he was never a rock star either. Just a singer in a band that was no more.

He would be home from work by six, while Charlotte was at the hospital, then out again by seven, so she made him an egg sandwich too, wrapped it in cellophane and put it in the refrigerator. It was not a hot meal, but then Jamie was less of a cook than she was. It would have to do.

She had one more can of beer, and put another one in her bag.

She passed the hall mirror on her way out the door and looked into her own eyes. So, how she felt was obvious. They were as flat and matte as a painted doll’s eyes.

Cassie. She would wait to see Cassie before she made any decisions. Cassie could make her laugh. When she truly laughed, her eyes twinkled and shone. Many people had told her that, once.


  • Original Prompt: Jump, September 22, 2016

Westmalle [Repost]

Prompt: Love

blue-crayon

Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.

Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.

The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.

“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.

They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.

“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.

“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.

“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.

“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.

“I can pay you,” Leep said.

“Yes, but—“

“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”

“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”

“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”

Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.

“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.

“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.

“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.

“And the story?”

“Improved.”

Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.

It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.

“Oh my god,” said Amanda.

People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.

“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”

“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”

“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”

Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.

Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.

This was the best date he had ever been on.


Best of Seven

Prompt: Should


Hello Wednesday!

Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

While “please” and “thank you” are magic words, “I should have”, “could have”, “would have” are words of doom and regret. Or anyway, of wistful longing or face-palming annoyance.

This past week my brother has been visiting, just as winter finally struck the valley. He managed to drive up during a break in the cold and snow— a weather window— and while he was here the winter temps and wind conditions grew more and more precipitous. He wasn’t able or prepared to stay for a month, so how to best judge the right moment to climb into his snow-tired vehicle and brave the mountain passes for six hours?

He could stay on an extra week no problem, but the forecasts for later in the month were for even colder, more wintery weather which might not break until March. So we collectively decided that today, Wednesday, February 13 was The Day, the weather window. No snow predicted, clearer skies, warmer temperatures.

As an aside, the snow here in our valley has been of the light, sparkly, twinkly, powder kind, not the heavy wet dump of mountain communities or the coast. So there was the element of leaving the safe, pretty snow for the dense, dangerous kind.

There is no surprise ending. Aside from navigating through the briefest of blizzards half an hour after his departure, brother had no problems and drove through the mountain passes and highways and byways without much problem, although he passed countless abandoned cars and trucks in the ditches, remnants of yesterday’s storms. This morning the drivers of those vehicles could be heard throughout the land, cursing: “I shoulda waited until Wednesday.”

Unrelated to winter driving conditions but to today’s prompt, “should”, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons?

cartoon should crap

cartoon solar coolercartoon best of seven


Wherever you are, enjoy your weather windows (even if they are only of the looking-through kind)!

~~FP

Westmalle

Prompt: Candle

blue-crayon

Leep blushed so hard that his ears burned. The lights had just been dimmed, and the servers were going around the restaurant lighting table candles. Amanda had disappeared to the Ladies’ Room shortly after they sat down, when the light was brighter. She would return to a romantic, candle-lit environment.

Why had she gone as soon as they sat down? Maybe she called a girlfriend, complaining that she had to spend time with someone like Leep. He wore a clean shirt, white with thin blue stripes, freshly ironed, but his pants were the dark ones, the ones he wore to Ham and Dolly’s wedding, and the night he shot Hootie in the ass. They hadn’t been to the dry cleaners since. Maybe they emitted horrible, bloody vibes, that every one in the room could feel. He blushed some more.

The restaurant was near full, no music or distraction except the mellow, muted buzz of conversation. A server came and stood in front of Leep. “May I bring you and the lady something to drink?” he asked.

“Water,” said Leep, and the server disappeared. Should he have ordered wine? The waiter was probably sneering at him behind his back. He didn’t know anything about wine, or anything about what Amanda liked to drink. Did they have to drink? This was a business meeting after all. But why here, in this place?

“I’ve always wanted to eat here,” said Amanda with a smile, as she sat down and pulled the chair closer. “Really nice, isn’t it?” They both looked around. It was modern, clean, with large shuttered windows and pools of lights in the corners, and sets of three candles on each table.

They both picked up the menu and began reading. Leep blushed at the silence. The food looked strange and expensive. He would stick to what he knew. Salad and a steak, if he could find them.

“Do you have Belgian beer?” he asked when the server came around a second time to enquire about alcohol. Amanda had ordered a glass of Pinot Noir. Leep knew a bit about beer now, and the server, startled, opened the wine list to the back page.

“I believe…” the server said uncertainly.

“Yes, here. I will have the Westmalle.” Leep pointed. He’d never tasted a Belgian Tripel.

“I’m flattered that you want me to be your editor,” Amanda said when the server backed away.

“I can pay you,” Leep said.

“Yes, but—“

“I have an investor,” said Leep. “I can afford to self-publish ‘The Blue Rabbit’. Did you get the manuscript with all the ideas?”

“But you see, I work for Panhandle Press, which does not do self-publishing.”

“I know,” said Leep. “This is separate.”

Leep ordered the house salad even though it had pecans in it, which Leep didn’t like, and which was the cheapest appetizer on the menu, and the Porterhouse steak, which was the most expensive entree on the menu. Amanda ordered eggplant gnocchi and the sea bass special.

“I love the idea of supplying a blue crayon with each book so the children can colour the blue rabbit themselves,” said Amanda.

“You do?” Leep blushed. His skin was tired of blushing, and the dressing on the salad was too sweet.

“Yes, perhaps we can do a board book, so the colour can be wiped off as many times as they want,” said Amanda.

“And the story?”

“Improved.”

Leep had to admit the steak was darn good. They were thinking about dessert, or another drink, or coffee, when someone screamed.

It was strange, Leep thought, how something as loud and shocking as a scream yields to a suspended silence, a void, a vacuum that sucks up breath and speech. There the silence hung, for long milliseconds, until the room came alive with movement and talk and shouting.

“Oh my god,” said Amanda.

People seemed to be rushing about, and a wall of staff hid the source of the scream, a table near the window. A few minutes later, an ambulance sounded.

“What happened?” Amanda asked the waiter when he returned to talk about cheesecake. He said someone was ill, nothing to do with the food. “Did you see anything, Leep?”

“No,” said Leep. Then to the server: “Bring the check.”

“Leep, it is my treat,” said Amanda. “You are my client now. It is tax-deductible.”

Through the window they could just see a gurney, plump with a strapped-in body, being loaded into the ambulance. It disappeared with lights flashing but no siren.

Leep had himself an editor, his own editor, who liked his ideas and, for the most part, his book. He tasted a Westmalle Tripel for the first time. Someone got sick or died and upset the universe of the restaurant and distracted attention away from Leep and his failings. His meal was tax-deductible. Amanda didn’t seem to hate him and probably did not complain about him to her girlfriend when she went to the Ladies’ Room.

This was the best date he had ever been on.


Crazy Dark Place

Prompt: Jump

plain-blonde-doll

Charlotte arrived home just after four am, and Jamie was asleep. The house still stank of beer, so he’d had friends over. The furnace had clicked over into overnight temperatures, so the house was cold– that especially bitter, early morning cold.

She went into the kitchen and washed her hands at the sink. She used Palmolive dish detergent as soap, and scrubbed up as thoroughly as the surgeons she occasionally worked with. Her hands, she noticed were looking pink and raw but she was too tired for a shower, and needed to wash away the death and decay.

Jamie had cocooned himself in the sheets and blankets at one side of the bed. She had to wake him, or sleep in the cold.

When she awoke the next day, she had a meal that was neither breakfast nor lunch, an egg sandwich and a glass of cranberry juice, followed by a can of beer. Jamie had gone off to work, and she was due at the hospital in less than an hour.

She combed her hair, thinking it was too long. Who was she kidding? Her hair was pale blonde and thick and there was no grey showing, but she was no longer the bright young beauty that had attracted Jamie and so many others. She rubbed baby lotion on her arms and chest. She put concealer under her eyes. She thought of Cassie, who was the wife of one of Jamie’s friends. Charlotte would agree to the Super Bowl party Jamie kept talking about, so Cassie could visit too and they could chat and Charlotte would inevitably laugh, because Cassie always put things into perspective. Cassie seemed to enjoy making Charlotte laugh. The world was a crazy dark place, that was Cassie’s philosophy. Might as well face it and deal with the paralysis of life with energy and a sharp tongue.

Charlotte understood that. She felt paralyzed but lacked the energy or power to feel that she was more alive than the patients she treated, and not one of the walking dead. She wanted handsome Jamie back. She wanted the feel of a hero’s arms about her, warm and soothing. She wanted a flat stomach and trim waist, and clothes that fit. She wanted to be admired and yes, even pampered. Instead she was surrounded daily by the dying, and had to fight off thoughts that the happiness of those she served might be better fulfilled by a deep, permanent, peaceful sleep.

Jamie had a gig that evening, and Charlotte would miss it. While she she nursed a vague nostalgia for the once inseparable performer and muse, she didn’t mind, and neither did Jamie. He was hardly the rock star she had worshipped as a girl. He was a DJ in a small town now. He didn’t write songs anymore, or sing them. She was no longer his inspiration. He played whatever music his clients wanted, even country and western. Being the wife of an indifferent DJ was not the same as being the wife of a rock star. To be honest, he was never a rock star either. Just a singer in a band that was no more.

He would be home from work by six, while Charlotte was at the hospital, then out again by seven, so she made him an egg sandwich too, wrapped it in cellophane and put it in the refrigerator. It was not a hot meal, but then Jamie was less of a cook than she was. It would have to do.

She had one more can of beer, and put another one in her bag.

She passed the hall mirror on her way out the door and looked into her own eyes. So, how she felt was obvious. They were as flat and matte as a painted doll’s eyes.

Cassie. She would wait to see Cassie before she made any decisions. Cassie could make her laugh. When she truly laughed, her eyes twinkled and shone. Many people had told her that, once.

Passions

Prompt: Passionate

beers

Franco the Barber was sitting in the passenger seat of the Lincoln, with the door swung open, parked in the back lane of Debora Demarco’s house. He leafed through a catalogue, while Leep stood outside on the gravel, leaning against one of the carport posts.

“Can you smoke in the car?” asked Leep.

“So many questions,” said Franco. “Always, so many questions. Yes, I can smoke in the car. Al does all the time, so why wouldn’t I be able to?”

Leep shrugged. “Just making conversation.”

“Go make conversation inside the house,” said Franco.

“What’s the catalogue?”

“Oh.” Franco shook off a layer of irritability and held up the front cover. “Yeager’s Surplus Guns ’n’ Ammo. You like guns, Leep?”

“Don’t know much about them,” Leep said. “What’s that on the cover? I like it.”

“That, kid, is your Daniel Defence AK18. Set you back a few thou for one of those.”

“You like guns, Franco?” Leep had graduated last week from calling him Mr Francesco.

“Oh sure, me and Al both. You might call it a passion.” He chuckled. “Al has quite a collection, some of them historic, like Civil War. Most locked away in his office, so the kids can’t get at them.”

“Smart,” said Leep.

“Only thing he loves more is—“ Franco closed up the catalogue and tossed it to Leep. “There ya go, have fun. Jack off to the DD’s if you want.”

“Heh,” said Leep, not knowing if it was a joke. “What does he love?”

“His wife,” said Franco. Then burst out laughing. “Well, women, and his wife is one of those. He loves his women.”

Leep affected what he hoped was a conspiratorial chuckle. He certainly knew that Al had his droopy eyes set on Deborah’s mother, Beth. “Aha, who doesn’t?” he said, and hoped Franco couldn’t sense the foolish mush that was inside his head, since no one knew less about loving women than Leep.

Franco laughed again. “You don’t. You should be asking Big Al about the women, not me.”

“Really?” asked Leep.

“No, not really, you fuckface.” Franco climbed out of the car and stood up, stretching his arms in the air. He wore a dark brown suit and a white shirt, without a tie. “Don’t talk to Mr Demarco unless he talks to you first.”

Like royalty, Leep thought, but didn’t say it aloud. He would take the catalogue and go into the house now, make note of where Albert Demarco put his briefcase when he visited, and refuse the Budweiser that Deborah’s mother would offer him, because his passion, at the moment, was beer.