Sleeping Beauty


Prompt: Briar

Hello Wednesday!

When I was a kid, fairy tales elicited the kind of reaction that they must have done hundreds of years ago: fear and awe. We had books and books of fairy tales, telling of children lost in the woods, evil wart women, betrayals and punishments, violence, trickery and lies. Disney could not completely muffle the dark underside of these stories, and so I found many of the tales disturbing enough to require a night light.

What did I think a night light accomplished, I wonder? Prevent an evil witch from entering the room? Repel impossible creatures, like dragons and malicious plants? Keep not just the strange little men from entering, but also the handsome prince, whom I did not know and didn’t want to be kissed by?

A favourite though was the tale of a young girl (a princess, I think) whose six brothers are cursed by their evil stepmother and transformed into swans. She can only break the curse by weaving each of them a shirt made of nettles, and she toils away in some anxiety because the shirts must be made within a certain time– and she doesn’t quite finish the task before the deadline. So while five of her brothers are rescued, one has a swan’s wing in place of the arm she was unable to sew in time. …So exciting! I wonder if I craved to be a heroine in the eyes of my two brothers? Anyway Disney hasn’t ruined this one for me, yet.

In the spirit of fairy tales, briars, prickles, and thorns, may I present a few of my favourite cartoons?


Sweet dreams and smooth sailings!

Love,

~FP

Ungrateful

Green wet pears hanging on the tree branch

Old Anthony was happy about the corona virus. It kept that girl and that Leep out of his room and his life, and meant even more minimal contact with his caregivers at Sunny Shores, which was neither sunny nor near any recognizable body of water.

By chance, his room overlooked a sparse patch of lawn and a tree, all of it (and Sunny Shores) enclosed by a tall chain link fence. This fence was meant to prevent the folks from Floor 6 from escaping, should they manage to wander out of their locked ward, but mostly it made Anthony feel as if he too was a prisoner.

It was a pear tree. He had a memory of his uncle’s farm in the country where he and his sister and parents took brief summer vacations, as his uncle tolerated them for a week or two without charge. Uncle Frank’s orchards included a few rows of pear trees, and Anthony remembered the teardrop shape of the canopies, the warm, luminous leaves and the plump clusters of fruit, never quite ready for picking when the family visited. They feasted on late cherries and peaches, but those who came after enjoyed the pears.

The tree outside his window was solitary, old, and neglected, but home to a hive of honeybees, which Anthony observed with interest, as he had nothing else to do. Especially now, with the lockdown.

All Sunny Shores residents were banned from the dining room and other common rooms, about which Anthony cared not a whit; but it made it more difficult to connect with Presley. It was not impossible, however, because staff had been cut back, ostensibly because patient isolation made a full complement of caregivers unnecessary. But Anthony knew the proprietors of Sunny Shores were most interested in saving a few bucks. They were a business, after all, and he remembered when they switched to powdered milk in the hopes no one would notice, and the declining number of chips in the chocolate chip cookies, and the fewer and smaller proteins on his plate… a shrivelled thigh instead of a plump breast with his rice and peas did not go unnoticed.

He couldn’t tell if the person who dropped off his lunch and dinner tray was the red-headed one with the big teeth or the brunette with the permanent lip blister, since they now wore caps and masks. The masks didn’t look like the ones he saw medical people wear on television: They looked like the kind you bought at Home Hardware to protect your face from sawdust. Whatever.

He wasn’t sure what precisely was in those bottles Presley sold him, or where she got them, but they did the trick. The sharp, clear, bitter liquid came in mason jars with screw top lids and blank labels on them, presumably so Presley’s customers could disguise their hooch however they desired. Anthony labelled his “CPAP” and figured the redhead and the brunette would likely not notice or care, even though he didn’t use a CPAP machine. They tended to be incurious.

If the girl or Leep ever noticed the jar on the dresser, they said nothing, perhaps because of misplaced trust in a man’s right to privacy, even an old, homeless drunk.

Sometimes the Wiry Guy came in with his meds, also masked for do-it-yourself projects. He liked to chat but thankfully his voice was muffled and Anthony had never been good at understanding accented English.

He could enjoy his CPAP liquid in peace, enjoy the warm oblivion it brought, without thought of who the girl really was and why Leep wanted to see him. Arranging and following through with the meet-ups with Presley were enough to occupy his mind between watching CIS: Las Vegas and Ironside reruns and staring out the window at the bees.

They were as busy and industrious as the cliché, but they also possessed the kind of grace and indifference that Anthony had long admired and so rarely seen in life: Tawny, hovering creatures who had no idea how the sunlight filtered through their wings and illuminated them like fireflies, who filled their days with routines never challenged, who never mourned losses, and who lived and worked in splendidly oblivious isolation.

One day he recognized Wiry Guy as the man cutting the lawn around the pear tree. Anthony wondered if he was a grass cutter who dispensed medications or a nurse who mowed lawns. Neither option made sense, until Anthony took his CPAP jar from the dresser top and poured himself a few small shots.

Wiry Guy was likely a nurse, since he seemed unskilled at cutting the lawn, leaving ragged patches like badly cut hair and accidentally ramming his mower into the pear tree. The latter action resulted in Wiry Guy getting stung by the usually benign bees, evidenced by a waving of arms and some screaming and a rush to get back inside, leaving the mower forlornly abandoned under the shade of the tree.

That’s why, in the end, Anthony was expelled from Sunny Shores. His memory of it was not as sharp as his memories of his uncle’s farm, but sure, he became irate when Wiry Guy reemerged on the lawn with a hose fitted with a power nozzle, and emboldened by CPAP elixir, Anthony summoned enough wherewithal to tie his dressing gown closed and stumble out of his room, past the empty desk at the reception and out the doors into a day that was warmer than it looked.

He stopped Wiry Guy’s destruction of the hive by pushing the mower into the back of his legs, then grabbing the hose and turning it steadily onto the nurse, who, so he was told, almost drowned. Who ever heard of a man drowning from a garden hose?

It got fuzzier after that, but when Anthony’s head cleared, he’d discovered he too had been stung twice, both on the upper calf of his left leg. Ungrateful bees.

The girl had appeared in his room and was packing a duffle bag with his meager belongings, and talking.

“Drunk, too?” she said. She didn’t sound angry, exactly; in fact, he wasn’t even sure she was talking to him. But he quickly understood that this scenario meant that he had to leave the facility and go to live with this girl, his daughter. He hated Sunny Shores, but they mostly left him alone there, and now he would have to live in quarantine with this girl interfering in his life and what few pleasures he had left.

He wasn’t so happy about the corona virus now.

Innocence [Repost]

 

Prompt: Famous

adam and eve

Kelly Bak was joining Pat for a private lunch at the White House. They’d become quite close during Rich’s run for governor of California— both wives to powerful, and in Kelly’s case, very wealthy men. They could talk freely about their travels, their servants, their possessions, the famous people they knew, without sounding pompous or pretentious. All these things were incidentals, elements of their daily lives.

They both knew that the Mellon family didn’t eat shellfish, that coats made from the fur of female mink were lighter in weight but just as warm, and the first name of the owner of the hidden hotel near the Spanish Steps. They could share concerns about temperamental cooks and valets, discuss which make-up artists were the most competent, or when to wear the real jewelry and when to wear the paste.

On this day they met in the small family dining room, where Pat’s “help”, Constance, had laid out sandwich triangles of egg and ham, fruit salad, and slices of chocolate chiffon cake, along with pots of tea and coffee, on a smooth white linen cloth.

They chatted briefly about their daughters, Julie being only a few years older than Kimmy, when Pat noticed a shadow cross Kelly’s face. “What is it?” she asked.

“I think,” said Kelly, “that Kimberly made a mistake.”

“A mistake?”

Kelly hesitated. She lit a cigarette, a Virginia Slim, and inhaled deeply. Feathers of fawn-colored smoke swirled in the air around her.

“There was something going on with her riding instructor,” Kelly said at last, setting her cigarette on the rim of a cut glass ashtray that Pat had thoughtfully moved closer.

Pat didn’t smoke or drink in public, but she looked at the cigarette cradled in the Vallon ashtray with longing, and fought an impulse to smoke, herself, as she always did when conversations or feelings became too intense.

“Oh dear,” said Pat.

“He’s gone, but…”

Pat said nothing. She clasped her hands in her lap. An image of Julie and Kimmy as small children, splashing about in a turquoise blue wading pool, popped into her head. She remembered the bathing suit that Julie wore, her favourite, a pale pink and yellow plaid with a skirt frill.

“She made an appointment with a doctor,” Kelly said slowly. “A different doctor.”

“Perhaps it’s nothing— a teenage thing,” Pat said.

“No,” said Kelly. “I don’t think so.”

Pat wanted to say, Why don’t you ask her? But she knew what happened when you asked questions. They both knew.

“Would you like more coffee?” Pat asked.

Kelly set the china cup on the table and Pat poured from a silver carafe. “How is Richard?” Kelly asked.

“Richard is just fine!” Pat said. “As always.” And she smiled, and poured a second cup for herself.


The Adventures of Chai: The Handcuffs

Prompt: Incubate

audrey in sunglasses

“Let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?” said Chai.

Flax responded with a deeply blank stare, an odd countenance for such a young child. Perhaps, Chai thought, he was “processing” and had no energy left for facial expression. Flax was more about doing than thinking, but maybe there was a speck of growing up incubating in that tiny, terrifying boy bundle.

But would he tell mom about the handcuffs?

Her mother had been furious about the leash. No matter how much Chai explained that it had saved her brother from being hit by a car, her mother was adamant that it was unholy to put a young human being on a leash, just because he was active.

“—and unpredictable and strong and it was a harness not a leash,” Chai said.

“No,” said her mother. “Get a good grip on his hand, like a normal person.”

His sticky, gooey, gobby little hand, which slid out of hers whenever he saw something distracting, the same way a dog darted for a squirrel. Sometimes he yanked his hand away just so he could run two blocks ahead of her. She had books to carry, homework and all kinds of shit; how was she supposed to run after an almost four-year old future gold medal sprinter?

No leash, and Flax would surely end up flattened by a bus.

So Chai toured the Dollar Store, which had jumbles of unrelated merchandise on every shelf and in every corner, for ideas. By the time she reached the toy handcuffs, she had a fabric sunflower, a bottle of blue nail polish, a starfish-emblazoned mug, and a mammoth bag of caramel corn in her basket.

The handcuffs were plastic and not strong enough to contain the likes of Flax, as she found out when she flexed them and they came apart. She buried the broken pair under a stack of water pistols. Should stores even sell toy handcuffs and guns?

An hour later Chai was hovering outside the Sexxe Shoppe, wearing a scarf and a pair of her mother’s sunglasses, hoping to pass for eighteen.

The handcuffs were on a display shelf, covered in a hard plastic shell mounted on cardboard, but they looked like they were made of metal, and strong. The key had a heart-shaped handle, lest the set be mistaken for something other than intimate pleasure.

The following afternoon, she picked up Flax as usual at the daycare, and as soon as they were out the door she snapped on the polished silver handcuffs, making the two of them temporarily inseparable. Conveniently, the cuff size was completely adjustable, and the little terror was unable to slip out of them.

He was not happy, but he was never happy to be held back, even by Chai’s innocent hand.

The handcuffs were not as convenient as the leash, because she only had one hand free, but somehow she managed to get them both home safely and without incident.

The key. She’d put it in her jacket pocket. Hadn’t she?

“Just a minute, Flax!” He stopped the pulling and yanking for the duration of the blink of an eye, then leaned, suspended and squirming, away from her. With difficulty she patted down her jacket pockets, then rummaged through her bag and then scrunched up the lining of her jacket in case the key had fallen through, but there was no joyfully wanton, heart-shaped silver key to be found.

She pulled Flax back to her and checked his pockets and clothing carefully.

Fuck!

Her mother would be back briefly after work, then would dash out for her evening accounting course (hoping to get a federal job, and all that) but how could Chai manage to conceal the handcuffs from her until she could find the key?

Neither she nor Flax could get their jackets off, so Chai scribbled a note and left it on the counter: Gone to Jude’s, took Flax, see you tonite.

She somehow got Flax a snack and into the bathroom for an awkward pee, then she dragged the poor lad to the park around the corner, where they waited on a bench behind a tree until her mother’s car glided slowly by in the direction of the house, then, a few minutes later, slowly glided past again.

Chai (and Flax) retraced their steps all the way back to the daycare, then diligently searched the sidewalk and porch at the house, then every inch of the house. She found the earring she’d lost back when she had her ears pierced, and a dollar bill that was no longer in circulation, and a birthday card from last year that had fallen behind the sideboard, but she did not find a key.

It was about half past eight when Chai heard her mother slam the front door and throw her keys onto the hallway table.

“If you want to watch the end of this, don’t say a word,” she whispered sharply to Flax. They sat side by side on the couch in front of the TV, the lights dimmed, with a big bowl of caramel popcorn between them. Cars 2 was the feature film on Netflix, and held Flax’s full attention even though he’d seen it at least twice before.

Her mother paused in the doorway. “Hi chickens. What’s Flax doing up so late? Flax—“

“We’ll just watch the end of Cars, mom. It’s not a school night. I’ll get him to bed.” Chai knew her mother was dead tired. Her night classes were Thursday and Friday, along with full time teaching at Frontenac Elementary School, and she tended to sleep through most of the weekend.

Flax stuffed a handful of caramel corn into his little maw with his free hand. Their mother came up behind them, kissed the top of his head, and bid them good night.

Ok, it was a troublesome night. They slept in Chai’s bed because it was bigger, and while Flax slept soundly, he also thrashed around, farted, and hogged the covers.

And they had to get up well before their mother, whose alarm would go at ten a.m.

Chai was frantic. She thought of dragging her brother to the Sexxe Shoppe and begging for a second key, but she was pretty sure he wouldn’t be allowed onto the premises, and anyway some of the devices on display might confuse or even traumatize the little boy. She knew she’d been confused, and was a bit shaky on the traumatization. A little research would be in order when all this was sorted out, if it ever was.

Might the hardware store have a device wherewith they cut through metal as a service to their customers? How often would teenage girls come in needing liberation from handcuffs?

In desperation she called the Sexxe Shoppe on the phone, and spoke to a cheerful someone named Mandy, who sounded Chai’s age.

“Um,” said Chai.

“Honey, I’ve heard it all,” said Mandy. “What can I do ya for?”

“I lost the key to the Luxe Handkuffs. I can’t find it anywhere and I—“

“Honey, did you not press that little latch near the chain?”

“The what?”

“A safety feature, in case one or the other— well, never mind. Just find that little lever… do you see it, honey?”

“Who’re you talking to?” her mother asked as she wandered into the kitchen, clad in a purple kimono.

Flax, newly freed, bounded out of the kitchen and into the back yard, where he started digging a hole and filling it with rocks, fallen leaves, and litter.

“No one,” said Chai. “I made some tea.”

Casually, Chai pulled her jacket around her and joined Flax in the garden.

“Flax,” she said, “let’s not tell mom about the handcuffs, ok?”

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.

Innocence

Prompt: Crossroads

adam and eve

Kelly Bak was joining Pat for a private lunch at the White House. They’d become quite close during Rich’s run for governor of California– both wives to powerful, and in Kelly’s case, very wealthy men. They could talk freely about their travels, their servants, their possessions, the famous people they knew, without sounding pompous or pretentious. All these things were incidentals, elements of their daily lives.

They both knew that the Mellon family didn’t eat shellfish, that coats made from the fur of female mink were lighter in weight but just as warm, and the first name of the owner of the hidden hotel near the Spanish Steps. They could share concerns about temperamental cooks and valets, discuss which make-up artists were the most competent, or when to wear the real jewelry and when to wear the paste.

On this day they met in the small family dining room, where Constance had laid out sandwich triangles of egg and ham, fruit salad, and slices of chocolate chiffon cake, along with pots of tea and coffee, on a smooth white linen cloth.

They chatted briefly about their daughters, Julie being only a few years older than Kimmy, when Pat noticed a shadow cross Kelly’s face. “What is it?” she asked.

“I think,” said Kelly, “that Kimberly made a mistake.”

“A mistake?”

Kelly hesitated. She lit a cigarette, a Virginia Slim, and inhaled deeply. Feathers of fawn-colored smoke swirled in the air around her.

“There was something going on with her riding instructor,” Kelly said at last, setting her cigarette on the rim of a cut glass ashtray that Pat had thoughtfully moved closer.

Pat didn’t smoke or drink in public, but she looked at the cigarette cradled in the Vallon ashtray with longing, and fought an impulse to smoke, herself, as she always did when conversations or feelings became too intense.

“Oh dear,” said Pat.

“He’s gone, but…”

Pat said nothing. She clasped her hands in her lap. An image of Julie and Kimmy as small children, splashing about in a turquoise blue wading pool, popped into her head. She remembered the bathing suit that Julie wore, her favourite, a pale pink and yellow plaid with a skirt frill.

“She made an appointment with a doctor,” Kelly said slowly. “A different doctor.”

“Perhaps it’s nothing– a teenage thing,” Pat said.

“No,” said Kelly. “I don’t think so.”

Pat wanted to say, Why don’t you ask her? But she knew what happened when you asked questions. They both knew.

“Would you like more coffee?” Pat asked.

Kelly set the china cup on the table and Pat poured from a silver carafe. “How is Richard?” Kelly asked.

“Richard is just fine!” Pat said. “As always.” And she smiled, and poured a second cup for herself.