Words

Prompt: Unravel

night sky evergreens

Folly hadn’t spoken since we visited her abandoned town, except to ask if we could sleep outdoors instead of in the big empty Best Western motel that was situated just outside of Chandler’s Folly. I admit, it was sometimes creepy to inhabit a completely empty place meant for hundreds of warm bodies, beds all made up and ready for customers, the neon sign “Vacancies” still automatically lit at night, an ice machine miraculously still full of ice, and what seemed like miles of empty, gaudily-carpeted hallways.

Life was a lot creepier for Plato and I, before Folly found us. Now there were three of us, which was so much better. Now I had someone who could talk back, though Folly often chose not to. Plato was a good listener, and a good dog, but his language skills were lacking.

When the world ended, poor Folly had wandered in the woods, completely alone, before she stumbled upon me and Plato. Talk about creepy. No wonder she couldn’t remember her real name. She couldn’t even drive, being only eleven. I got my driver’s license as soon as I turned sixteen. That was almost a year ago. My birthday was in two days. Maybe the three of us could celebrate somehow. Birthdays were big deals in my family with cake and the whole thing. I tried not to think about it. I set up the tents and got a small fire going. Folly liked to roast things on an open fire, even plain bread or peaches.

The motel was perched on the edge of the green belt and only a ten minute walk from the campsite. Folly turned up as I was cutting up some cooked chicken for Plato. She brought a box of macaroni and cheese and three Creamsicles for our dinner. Sometimes Plato ate better than we did.

So we sat around the fire after our mac and cheese and after me, Folly, and Plato had eaten our Creamsicles, and talked about birthdays. I wasn’t even bothered that talking to Folly was the same as talking to Plato, meaning I expected nothing in return, really, except I know Plato loved me and Folly was just a kid I didn’t know.

I asked her about her birthdays, just to be polite, and as usual Folly didn’t answer until about half an hour after I asked the question. I wondered if she ever had bouncy castles at her birthday parties; that seemed to be a thing parents did, rent these big inflatable things in red and pink and blue that kids could jump on. So a half an hour later she said, “Yes”, and then went into the tiny pup tent she liked. So much for that conversation. It was weird, but maybe her forced solitude got her comfortable being alone; anyway, I didn’t see much of her for a couple of days.

On the morning of my birthday, which was four days after Folly unravelled after being back at her home town, I awoke wondering if we should go back one more time. She really needed to find her house and her name and her history. It was painful to remember, sure, but without memories of my mom and dad and two sisters and our lives, I don’t know how I could have gone on. Folly maybe needed that too.

So she was grilling some breakfast toast over the fire and I suggested we go back to Chandler’s Folly again, now that we knew what to expect. I didn’t talk to her like she was a stupid kid, what was the point in that? She was the smartest person I knew, even if she was the only person I knew.

She actually spoke. She said, “Come with me?”

So I walked with her back to the Best Western motel and beyond, to what looked like a car dealership. I was curious about this. Maybe her father or mother had sold cars? What was the connection?

She led me to a monster of a motor home. Something called a Thor Venetian. Pasted on the door was a red bow, the kind you might find on a small, wrapped Christmas present.

I looked at Folly. She had her usual blank expression, except for a slight air of impatience. So we went inside.

Well it was like a fancy dollhouse, but cosy, you know? Lots of faux suede and tile in muted tones of beige and white, clean and new. I was interested in the driver’s cab, but she nudged me along until we were at the built-in dining area where, I swear, an iced, two layer birthday cake sat in the middle of the faux marble topped table.

There were unlit candles in the cake. The icing was chocolate.

“I made it,” said Folly. “Duncan Hines.”

“You are smart for a kid,” I told her.

“I’m not a kid,” she said.

This was one of the longest conversations we’d ever had.

But I wasn’t thinking about that at the moment. The cake was exactly like the boxed cakes my mother used to make for my birthday. Yes, stale and dry and delicious. The icing came from a package that didn’t even need refrigeration to stay fresh, but it tasted good anyway.

We ate the cake, and gave some to Plato. We washed it down with cold milk. We didn’t sing Happy Birthday or anything.

At the end of the day, as I sat by the fire trying to figure out if we should travel in my red Jag from now on, or in this mammoth motorhome, I realized that I myself had barely spoken since Folly had shown me the cake. She had said nothing more, and now snored in her pup tent.

The sky was again a canopy of stars, which seemed to get brighter every night, framed by spikes of tall spruce and cedar.

Sometimes, I realized, words had no meaning. No purpose. No use.

Membership in Heaven

Prompt: Realize

soap-opera-bw

The restaurant was called Liquefy. Dominic had walked past it a hundred times. It had a sage green stucco exterior and white-painted slatted wood blinds, usually open just enough to see the shadows, animated by the flicker of candles, of the privileged, a group that did not include Dominic.

He had been privileged once, though not through his own ambition or talent. His parents were both established day time soap opera stars, with fan clubs, event appearances, a dash of glamour, and a steady, handsome income. Then came the accident, killing his father and disabling his mother. They received help from Actors’ Guild, but not much and it was down to Dominic to care for his mother, who did not want an institutionalized life, however comfortable. Dominic indulged her, helping her cook her meatballs, her fried eggplant, her fruit layer cakes; doing most of the work, in fact, under her supervision. Her passion now was her kitchen. She occasionally did voice-overs for commercials, but even her voice was losing its velvety power. Dominic would get his mother settled in bed in the evening, then go to his overnight security job, during which he studied in the hopes of finishing his degree in engineering.

He was far too busy for a man his age, who needed and yes, craved adventure and experience. His last girlfriend, he was certain, had left him because of his his inadvertent neglect of her in favour of his mother, his studies, and his job. Fair enough. Maybe now was a bad time for a relationship, though he longed for someone with whom to share his small victories, and to commiserate with him over the hundred tiny failures that made the days long, and the nights even longer.

Dominic paused in front of the restaurant and peered at the menu posted in a mahogany-framed glass case. They still had the eggplant gnocchi appetizer, which his mother would love. They had the sage and parmesan meatballs, the duck breast risotto, the flat iron steak with fire-roasted sweet potatoes (his preference). The prices were posted too. Dominic sighed heavily. His mother’s  60th birthday was in a week. This would be a gift she would never, ever expect, or forget. She didn’t need a scarf, or perfume, or another cookbook. He had to do this, somehow. And he had to figure it out quickly, since he was sure that successful Liquefy reservations were made days in advance.

He remembered as a child, when he and his best friend Denny were desperate for a plate of french fries at the local diner. Desperate. They had no money or prospects. Allowances spent, parents unsympathetic, they spent the entirety of an afternoon plotting income strategies. In the end, they came up with a charity scam, wherein they would tear the labels off of tin cans and go door to door, soliciting money for hungry children in India (which was, according to his parents, who reminded him regularly at dinnertime, a real and current issue).

The plot never gelled, thank goodness, Dominic thought. That would be a horrid addition to his resumé for membership in heaven, which would leave out no job, action, or thought. Dominic believed in heaven. Why not?

Still, the larceny of the plan he and Denny hatched to acquire a plate of french fries crept into his consciousness. He realized he could not risk breaking the law and leaving his mother alone, but he wanted this, his mother’s special birthday dinner, a night of spending and relishing and enjoying life, more than anything he had ever wanted. It was crazy, of course. But he walked past the restaurant every day. It was meant to be. Maybe he could come up with a plan. He would talk to Denny. Denny would understand.

 


  • Image adapted from a still from Bridges to Love, a soap opera that debuted on The Filipino Channel in March, 2015 and unrelated to this piece of fiction.

Falling Stars

Prompt: Elegant

anime_angel_wings

Anthony dreamt he was laid out on a battlefield. He could hear the thudding booms of cannons in the distance, and the scent of them filled his head as the smoke wafted downwind. The ground was cold and hard. He shivered. His face felt wet. There was a pounding in his head, possibly the result of a bullet or bayonet. He felt like he wanted to cry out, but as often happens in dreams, he was frozen and impotent.

Then he felt a shadow— a very strange shadow, since it cast a warmth and not a chill across his supine body. He couldn’t see properly; maybe the blood from the wound impaired his vision. He imagined the blood streaming down his face. But he knew the shadow was a woman, an angel, beautiful and shimmering as angels tend to be. Not an angel of death, thank god! No, this angel covered him in feathers; they rained down on him like a million falling stars. He felt such a perfect warmth that the pain went away, and he wanted to thank her but felt himself drifting into a welcome, relaxing nothingness.

Anthony awoke at about eleven o’clock. He was on the floor near the couch, he might have slipped off. The empty bottle of Schnapps lay within reaching distance. He felt drool caked all around his mouth, his tongue felt dry and swollen.

Nothing new here.

He was covered in a blanket, the ratty grey wool one that was usually tossed over the back of the sofa. It smelled of cigarette smoke. He lurched to his feet and went to see what there was to drink in the fridge.

There was one hotdog bun in a zip-lock bag, an open can of Schweppe’s tonic water, a brown banana, and a small carton of cold milk. Milk?

There was something on a plate covered in plastic wrap. It was brown. He opened it and found a square slice of cake, with chocolate icing and sprinkles, and a blue candle laid on its side. There was a note scribbled on the back of a liquor store receipt. Happy birthday dad, it said.

Anthony took the cake and the carton of milk, found a fork, and sat at the table. The cake was very cold, and so was the milk. It was whole milk, and tasted like cream.

It was good.

Foreign Beer

Prompt: Sidewalk

copper penny

Anthony saw the girl with the stroller approaching from the south, clattering along the uneven sidewalk. He sat on the stoop outside the liquor store, a favourite perch until the manager politely asked him to move, which she hadn’t done yet.

It was warm afternoon, overcast and humid. The skies wanted to rain, Tony could feel it, but the skies were holding back. They might throw down some rain at any moment, and Tony didn’t yet have enough for a mickey of Schnapps, which was the cheapest spirit he could tolerate.

He placed an old copper penny on the sidewalk in front of him, choosing a penny because it wouldn’t sparkle in the sun the way a silver coin would. He kept a close side eye of the stroller and as soon as it was almost in front of him he reached out to pick up the penny as the stroller wheel rolled over his hand.

“Ouch!” he cried. “Jesus!” He pulled his hand back. It actually did hurt. How big was that damn baby?

“Oh, sorry mister,” said the girl, and Anthony saw she was even younger than he thought. She had over-processed blondish hair, a stream of acne that crossed her plump face, and wore strangely high wedge shoes with a short denim skirt.

She didn’t offer him any money to compensate for the injury done to him, even though his cup was sitting there with a couple of dollars in it. “That your kid?” he asked, in about as nice a tone as he had ever mustered.

“NO!” the girl said, and her face turned scarlet in alarm, and the baby awoke and started to scream, and she looked like she might start to wail too, and she pushed the stroller so hard in take-off that the baby’s cry was interrupted.

On the other side of the sidewalk was a scrawny grass boulevard, and the sprinklers came on, which meant it was five o’clock, and probably was an omen of the rain to come. Anthony saw another figure approaching from the corner of his eye, and put the penny on the sidewalk again.

Just as the figure was about to cross in from of him, it turned up the ramp towards the liquor store.

“Hey Tony.”

Jesus, it was that Leep guy. Leep the creep. He walked by on his way to and from work, and had some weird idea that familiarity translated into some kind of friendship. Leep wore work clothes. Baggy jeans, a t-shirt, and a navy blue nylon jacket.

“Spare a few bucks?” Perhaps friendship had benefits.

“What’s new?”

“I’m saving up money for my ailing mother. Got any?”

“Your ailing mother?”

“Or a bottle of Schnapps or maybe Prokov. Or perhaps a smooth single malt, if the gods are generous, which they aren’t.”

“Maybe on your birthday,” said Leep.

“Today is my birthday,” said Anthony.

Leep smiled indulgently and put two dollars in coins in the coffee cup, saluted him, and continued on into the liquor store, where he bought a selection of foreign canned beer, telling Anthony on the way out that he was reading a book about beer.

Anthony wasn’t the least bit interested in what Leep was reading or drinking. He ignored him. He was thinking that damn it, today really was his birthday.

Fly Like an Eagle

Prompt: Fifty

highland kid

Local Man’s 50th Birthday Party Attended by 19
by Lynn Fosterama. Posted to Community.

As the sun slowly sank in the western sky, friends and family of Linney Sitwell gathered at the local Legion to celebrate his landmark birthday: the ripe young age of 50. A buffet of perogies, pot roast, spring salad, and of course, a chocolate birthday cake complete with candles, was provided for all the guests to enjoy, as well as a cash bar. Dancing followed, with many of the 19 in attendance taking advantage of the Legion’s newly-laid engineered oak flooring, which was installed with a grant from the town as well as fund-raising efforts by the Ladies of the Legion. DJ JohnnyO provided an eclectic mix of music from his private collection.

Wife Loretta Sitwell, 37, looked on proudly at a display of highland dancing presented by the Marnie Carnegie School of Dance, which included two of Mrs Sitwell’s nieces, Sunny, 12, and Pennith, 9, as well as her daughter, Charlotte-Ann, 5. The quality of the dance was very high in this reporter’s opinion, considering the ages of the young people who participated.

I spoke to Linney and Loretta after they took a spin on the dance floor to one of their favourite songs, “I Want to Fly like an Eagle”, by The Steve Miller Band.

“Yes, it is a wonderful evening,” said Linney, slightly flushed. “I would like to thank the Legion cooks for their really fine spread.”

“The perogies were home-made,” said Loretta Sitwell.

“And the cake?” I asked, having availed myself of a slice which I found tasty.

“A friend,” said Loretta, and she waved to someone at a table near the dance floor, presumably the baker, whose identity will be updated as the information comes in.

“How does it feel to be fifty?” I asked the man of the night.

“Better than the alternative,” Mr Sitwell replied.

“Haha,” said Loretta, and she took his arm and led him to the buffet for a cup of coffee from a silver urn rented for the occasion.

When asked how she was enjoying staying up extra-late for the party, daughter Charlotte-Ann responded, “I hate you.”

With a deadline to meet, this reporter left the festivities just as the highland dancers were lining up for an encore, tired, but happy.

The Aliens

Prompt: Youth

bouncy house animated

Celia’s ninth birthday party was to be held on Saturday. She prayed all night Friday, the way she had been taught in Sunday school, that aliens would appear along with her family and school friends at her party.

Her parents organized a barbecue for the adults, with lots of chilled beer, and a bouncy house for the kids and a clown who doubled as a children’s face painter. There were hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, coleslaw, and a confetti cake with ice cream.

It was a hot day. Celia ate half a hot dog and two pieces of cake, allowed the stupid clown to paint her face so she looked like a tiger, jumped intently in the bouncy house, and later she puked into the downstairs toilet, just barely making it. She was nine now, so she cleaned up the rim of the toilet and sprayed the room with some Glade, Lavender Spring fragrance.

Aliens did not appear in the sky and lower their aircraft into Celia’s family’s back garden. She started to have doubts about the existence of God.

But then, her Uncle Fred drank something pink out of a flask that he brought. He had the clown paint his face so he looked like a Frankenstein pirate. Then he used his cigarette to pop all the blue and white balloons that attached to the fence and the eaves. He told Celia late in the afternoon that she would be better off being a lesbian. She knew what a lesbian was. She was nine now.

The aliens, Celia thought, are among us.

Hilda’s Birthday

Prompt: Carefree

largest-aquariums-in-the-world

It was Hilda’s birthday. She and Zach were taking the day off, even though it was a Saturday, and spending it however Hilda wanted, which was their tradition when one of them had a birthday. She’d stayed at her sister’s overnight, to enjoy a semblance of a family celebration of a milestone birthday, and Zach was to come by and collect her.

She had an idea that they could smoke a little pot and go to the aquarium. She and some friends did that on her seventeenth birthday, and walking through tunnels surrounded by immersive waves of blue light while high was a life-changing experience for Hilda. There is more to life than meets the eye, her friend Carrie told her on that day. Yes, indeed there was. She couldn’t remember what exactly she learned on that excursion to the aquarium when she turned seventeen, but sometimes that’s how change was. You emerged a different person, and left the shell of your old self behind, forgotten.

But it was past one o’clock, and Zach hadn’t turned up. She phoned him and got the machine. She called and texted his cellphone, and got no reply.

So she hugged her sister and walked a block and a half to the bus stop, and took the city bus to Zach’s apartment. The journey involved a transfer, and a wait, so it took some time. Hilda was tired and slightly irritated as she approached the door to Zach’s flat and both rang the doorbell and knocked.

She thought she heard someone shout “Come in!”, but she could have been mistaken. Anyway, the door was unlocked and she went inside. It smelled like burnt toast. Zach was in the living room, sitting on the floor, leaning against the front of the couch, chanting to himself.

“Oh, great,” said Hilda. “So you started without me.”

Zach grimaced, his eyes closed, and said, “It doesn’t matter. Hilda? It doesn’t matter.”

Hilda sat cross-legged on the floor beside Zach. “What is it? What happened?” She felt his forehead. It was damp, but cool.

“My father died,” said Zach.

“That was two years ago.”

“He died yesterday, and two years ago, and twenty years ago,” Zach said.

Hilda got up and went into the kitchen to make sure all the stovetop burners were turned off and the fridge door was closed. She made a glass of chocolate milk from a syrup and took it to Zach.

He took it from her, but stared at the glass in his hand.

“What did you take?” Hilda asked.

“It isn’t working,” Zach said. “Nothing is enough.”

“It’s ok Zach,” said Hilda.

“No, it’s not.” Zach’s head drooped into his chest. Hilda took the glass of chocolate milk from his hand and put it on the coffee table.

The land line phone rang. Five long rings. Hilda sat with Zach’s left hand between her two hands, in her lap, as she sat on the floor beside him.

There was a pause, as Zach’s message was played to the caller. Hilda couldn’t hear it, but she knew he said, “It’s Zach. I’m not taking this call. But out of my deep respect for you, I will call you back if you leave a message.” Beep.

“Zach? It’s Bernard. Remember? Motorcycle in ditch? Broken mandolin? My friend repaired it, but it took longer than expected because he had to make the damaged parts he couldn’t locate, himself. Don’t worry, he’s an artist. Even your dad wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Anyway I have it here. Come by and pick it up any time.” Pause. “Call me. Bye.”

Zach withdrew his hand from Hilda’s lap. He pushed his unwashed hair out of his face, and reached for the glass of chocolate milk. He looked at Hilda for the first time since she arrived. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Good,” said Hilda.

“Could you do me one small favour?”

“What?”

“Get me a spoon? I like to drink chocolate milk with a spoon.”

Hilda knew that. She forgot. It was the way Zach drank chocolate milk as a child, savouring it, sip by sip, since it had been such a rare treat.

“Are you all right?” said Hilda.

“I’m not sure,” said Zach after a moment. “I lost words and gravity and the skin that holds me together. But you and Bernard…”

“It’s hard to escape things,” said Hilda. “I’ll get the spoon.”

“We’ll do your birthday,” Zach said.

“Damn right we will,” said Hilda.