Alarm [Repost]

Prompt: Observe

 

diamond cross 2

“You have to know I would never harm you,” Marcus said.

“Setting fire to the house with me in it kind of belies that statement,” said Envy.

Twice he had tried to reach across the table to take her hand, and twice had been rebuffed, once by the guard, and once by Envy herself.

He didn’t look like a prisoner waiting for a trial date. He looked like he had just turned up from a round of golf: a little tanned, a little tired, wondering what was for lunch. In fact, an outsider who observed just the two of them, seated at a small, pine-veneered table, would have pegged Envy for the convict; her hair was tangled, she was pale and nervous, and there were dark circles under her eyes. She was still a little battered from the fall from the balcony. Never a famous beauty to begin with, Envy was not at her best.

“The smoke alarms should have warned you,” said Marcus. “Why didn’t they?”

“That will remain a mystery for the ages,” said Envy, “since they were destroyed in the conflagration.” She wore a white gold chain with a diamond-encrusted cross pendant. She was thinking of returning to the church.

“You saw how upset I was,” said Marcus.

“That I survived,” Envy said.

For the third time, Marcus tried to take her hand. This time she slapped it. She was surprised to see his face contort in something that looked like pain. Existential or physical? she wondered.

“When did you stop loving me?” Envy said at last.

Marcus fiddled with the little sign in its plastic casing, propped up on the table. No touching. it said. No item exchange. No food. No shouting. Visitors and/or residents can and will be removed at any time at the guards’ discretion. No smoking.

Marcus looked out the window to an empty field, then back to Envy. “I never stopped loving you,” he said. “That’s why I asked you to come. I need your help.”

“Carmen got the police to describe you only as a ‘person of interest’,” Envy said.

“Carmen?”

“Your lawyer.”

“Ah.”

“That is the help I am giving you,” said Envy. “Take her advice. Tell the truth for once in your fucking life.” She stood up and leaned on her crutches. “And I’ll pray for you.”

“Jesus Christ,” said Marcus.

“Exactly,” said Envy.


  • Original Prompt: Burn, July 2, 2016

smoke-detector-monitoring-system

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Joy and Dismay

Prompt: Partake

manet picnic

Shhhhhh! —The leaves of the lime and birch shuddered and bobbed in the wind, blinking green and dun yellow, green and dun yellow. Five six seven fat quail scudded across the grass. An animal pounced; they flew up into the air like ashes from a fire.

Molly tried to keep her knickers hidden, but the hem of her dress was not weighted like her sister’s, and so flapped and fussed and threatened to reveal not just her boot-covered ankles but her stockinged calves, her frilly pantaloons, proof a woman was hidden somewhere beneath the billows of robin’s egg blue fabric.

She didn’t partake of the claret as it took her shyness away, and sister had told her that her shyness made her prettier. So she blushed and stammered in full sobriety, while her sister sipped and laughed and flirted with Donald Heath, the man Molly wanted to wed.

Egg sandwiches were passed around, which Molly denied herself too, as they made her flatulent. Sister took two small wedges, and fed one of them to Donald Heath.

James Fenwick and his cousin Halifax attended to Molly, embarrassed as they were by the intimacy on display between sister and Donald Heath, and Halifax braided tall grasses, adorned the halo with violets, and crowned Molly, much to her joy and dismay.

Sister caught Molly’s eye and winked under long lashes, and held out her glass without looking at Donald Heath and he filled it with wine. Her dress was cranberry red with pink ribbon trim and if she spilled a drop of claret on the bodice of the dress, which she did, no one would notice.

When they all rose to make their way to the carriages, sister stumbled and this time James Fenwick took her elbow on one side and Halifax on the other. The three walked ahead on the path as Donald Heath caught up with Molly and she could smell him— tobacco, horses, and mint.

“You must be very hungry and thirsty,” said Donald Heath.

“No, not at all,” said Molly as her stomach growled audibly. She half crouched as they walked, as the wind had not subsided and pulled recklessly at the hem of her skirt.

“I don’t usually eat egg sandwiches,” he said. “They make me fart, so please forgive me if we share a carriage.”

Molly let out a rather ungodly snort, before blushing from head to toe. Donald Heath, victorious, grinned broadly, took her elbow and whispered in her ear, “One day you’ll be my wife, and we’ll drink claret, spill it on our clothes, and—“

“—eat egg sandwiches all day long and fart as much as we choose,” said Molly. The wind calmed and they were suddenly children again, chasing each other through the tall grasses until they tumbled onto the ground, exhausted and unafraid.

Sister could go to hell.

Slow Motion [Repost]

Prompt: Frantic

Carton of eggs. one dozen

He was in the supermarket when it happened. It was early in the morning, and the market had just opened its doors. He only needed bread and eggs, which he could store in the fridge at work until the end of his shift. He wanted to get home right away after work and make things right. He waved to Mrs Smithers, his neighbour, who was cheerfully pushing a trolley filled with toilet tissue. Only yesterday she had brought him a jar of her apricot jelly. It was usually just a little too sweet, he thought, but it was such a kind gesture.

First, he noticed a rumbling, as if a subway train was running underground directly beneath him; but there was no train, no subway. The structure– the floors and walls– then actually quivered, violently, and Damien lost his footing. Someone screamed. It sounded like the young cashier, Denise.

The floor was liquid beneath his feet. Cereals, cans of fruit, cases of soft drinks flew off the shelves: they flew as if there was no gravity, careening across aisles and thudding into the store manager, who was trying to run outside. Lights and generators shut off.

He frantically reached for his phone. There was a loud crash and then Mrs Smithers smashed into him, knocking the phone out of his hand. She had blood running out of her nose.

In slow motion he crawled on his hands and knees, as plaster and chunks of wallboard rained upon his shoulders. Something sharp lodged in the back of his neck. He felt the wetness on his back, but no pain.

Somehow he reached the phone and punched in the number.

He smelled smoke, heard someone praying, and the roof over the produce section collapsed, trapping a man and his teenage son, who only a few minutes ago had been arguing; something to do with a car.

He couldn’t see anything any more, and felt suddenly, terribly, weak, but he got through! He heard the voice on the other end of the line. “I love you,” he said, as loudly as he could, and then collapsed into the broken glass and rubble.

Disaster averted.


  • Image by Corbis
  • Original Prompt: Disaster, April 16,2016

When Iggie Met Sally

Prompt: Astral

aster

Aggie had her baby on July 17, and it was immediately apparent that Iggie was not the father. The child had very long, straight brown hair and its tiny baby features were snugly concentrated in the centre of her face, which reminded everyone of someone else… but who?

We had them over for dinner again to admire the new addition to the family, and it was Celia, torn away from her iPhone long enough to examine the wee thing with a critical eye, reached over her, smoothed her soft hair into a part, then snatched Uncle Fred’s glasses from his face and posed them over the little face.

All eyes turned to Uncle Fred, who turned an alarming shade of magenta, then to Aggie, who immediately took the baby up to nurse, and finally to Iggie, who was idly clipping his chest hair with my mother’s favourite sewing scissors.

He looked up, unalarmed. He was used to people staring at him and had given up trying to figure out why. He smiled and waved, then set the scissors on the coffee table. He picked up a magazine, and proceeded to rip out the pages, one by one, leaving them in a neat stack on the cushion beside him. He looked up once, to glance meaningfully in the direction of the kitchen, indicating he was ready to fill his belly.

My mother, who had turned pink in the face too, gratefully hustled into the kitchen where the Crock Pot roast needed no attention at all. In fact, we all threaded our way around the furniture in a long, windy, single line like a regiment of ants, into the kitchen to join her. All except Iggie, Aggie, Uncle Fred, and my father.

We could hear my father’s low baritone, humming soothingly, and Uncle Fred’s less sedate squeaks, coughs, and something that sounded like Gregorian chanting. My mother told me to get away from the door and mash the potatoes, which was usually Uncle Fred’s job, though the consensus was he mashed them too much, making them gluey. I was determined to have fluffy mash, and dedicated my full attention to it.

Julia poured herself another glass of white wine. “Who else would have him?” she said, and my mother told her to hush, even though, if you thought about it, it was true.

Uncle Fred had meticulously parted and gelled brown hair, hardened into a helmet, and he wore an abundance of Old Spice cologne because, we suspected, he had an aversion to bathing. He was very white and prone to sunburn even in the winter. He didn’t like animals and we had to lock Charlie in the basement whenever he visited, because he pretended to have an allergy. He had a lot of alleged allergies, including aversions to poppies, asters, rayon, acid-free paper, dish soap, chain link, and Chapstick. Almost everyone had caught him watching porn on my father’s laptop, because he was afraid to access it at home in case “they” could trace it back to him. He wore white sport socks with leather loafers. Uncle Fred’s political leanings shifted regularly to the opposite of what everyone else thought. He believed he was a good debater, but he had no true beliefs.

Well, nobody’s perfect.

Iggie was surprisingly and profoundly disinterested in the fact that Aggie and the baby would now move in with Uncle Fred. If you looked back, you could see their relationship had been troubled for a while. Iggie had stopped taking Aggie’s hand and putting it in his lap a long time ago. Aggie had stopped licking his face when she felt amorous. Perhaps it was inevitable that they would drift apart. The stresses of moving to a new town and to an era far different from the Pleistocene Epoch could strain any relationship.

The landlord of the apartment that Iggie and Aggie had called home wanted to torch the interior, and possibly the entire building, but my father convinced him the place could be salvaged, and called on his friend Ernie McMurphy to come and do the drywalling and carpet installation at no cost to the landlord, since the damage deposit had barely begun to cover the necessary renovations.

So Iggie needed to find a new place, a bachelor pad, and my father called on one of his ex-students, now a real estate agent, Sally Bonaparte, to help Iggie find an unfurnished studio apartment on the ground floor with room for a fire pit outside.

It was love at first sight.

Good Enough

Prompt: Hidden

chex mix 1

“An engagement ring is hidden somewhere in the apartment,” said Bob. “See if you can find it before everyone arrives.”

Envy put her purse on the counter. “What?” she said.

Bob was hanging their jackets in the closet near the front door. He turned and smiled at her. “Surprised?”

“We never talked about this, not even remotely,” said Envy.

“No, and it’s time we did. Don’t you want to marry me?”

“I never thought about it for a moment,” said Envy.

“So now you are thinking about it.”

“You can do better, you said so on our first date.”

Bob joined her at the black granite topped kitchen island. “I did say that. It was awhile ago and I’m sorry I upset you, I already apologized.”

“But you don’t deny it!”

“You are unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I love you. Please marry me and be my wife.”

At least he’d learned, since they started dating, to not always offer his Radical Honesty unsolicited. That was something, surely. He was, except for his inflexible, uncomfortable bluntness, an impressive package. Handsome, fit, smart, well-read, funny, strange— Envy liked interesting people. But how did this happen?

“What makes you think I want to marry you?” she asked.

“We have fun, the sex is unique, you’ve indicated you care deeply and I’ve just told you how I feel,” said Bob. “You like marriage. You love loving and being loved.” He got two bowls from a cupboard, and bags of chips and nuts from the kitchen pantry. “I think I have some smoked salmon, somewhere…”

“My ex—“

“–lied and cheated and tried to kill you, blah blah, I know,” said Bob.

“Blah blah?”

“You had good times, sometimes.”

Envy considered getting her coat and simply leaving, never mind the impromptu after-dinner party she and Bob had initiated. She watched him overfill the snack bowls. Chex Mix littered the counter and spilled onto the floor.

“Envy, you don’t think you are pretty enough, smart enough, strong enough, or brave enough to be happy and loved. I think you are.”

She had always, always harboured a suspicion that Bob didn’t really, all the time, tell the honest truth, that he was sometimes the opportunist, that he was not averse to a sweet lie that might forward his agenda, though his agenda was never revealed. She felt her distrust wash over over her in a wave.

“Pumpernickel or melba toast to go with the salmon?” Bob asked.

“My parents don’t like you,” said Envy.

“I’m not all that thrilled with them.”

Envy was shaken; she went to the fridge and pulled out the ubiquitous chilled white wine; then to the cupboard above the dishwasher where he kept his stemmed glasses. In one of the glasses, something caught the light.

“I knew it wouldn’t take you long to find it,” said Bob.

It was a wide band of gold with three inlaid rubies.

“I’m against diamond mining,” he said.

“I know,” said Envy. It slipped comfortably onto her ring finger. “If someone else had found it, would you have been engaged to them?”

“I guess so,” said Bob. “Unless it was that lame-brained brother of yours.”

The phone buzzed, and Bob picked up and listened. “Speak of the devil,” he said to Envy as he pressed the button under the receiver. “They’re here, and so are Stuart and Greg.”

“I don’t know if you truly love me,” said Envy.

“Forget about me,” said Bob. “How do you feel?”

Envy rinsed the glass that held the ring, then filled it with wine. She ate a salted Cheerio and took a long sip. Someone pounded on the apartment door; Cash, probably. He really could be lame-brained sometimes. Bob ignored the noise and waited.

“I don’t know,” said Envy. “But I’m keeping the ring.”

Bob laughed, and opened the door.

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.

Conquer

Prompt: Conquer

yin yang fish

Beth wondered how much to tell him, as she snuggled close, her arm draped over his waist and her middle finger idly stroking his breast bone while he slept.

It wasn’t love. It wasn’t just lust, either, exactly. It was an almost Zen contentment, a match, a yin and yang, a yearning perfectly met. Theirs was a playful relationship, without intimacy, but with good food and fun and flirting and far too long in bed. Beth was reeling from the intoxication of it, she walked just a bit above ground, she was just a bit too forgiving, a bit too ready with a smile that couldn’t be contained.

There was no reason she should feel ashamed of anything in her past. Ok, her military husband left her for a man while she was pregnant. Ouch that did hurt, but didn’t really reflect on her, since in the end she was well rid of the bastard.

A single mom then, basking in the attentions of a rich man, who some might say bought her “services”. She didn’t look at it that way. Roman was lovely, attentive, in love, and Beth was young and desperate and tired of the struggle. Who could condemn her for that?

And Deborah. Beth had never really approved of Deborah’s husband, Vincent, but Deb was like her father— there was no stopping her when she wanted something. They shared a healthy ego, confidence, and the sense that the world owed them a happy life. He hadn’t met Deb yet, hadn’t heard the story of Vincent’s murder. How would it sound to him?

Vincent was out walking late at night (why?). He was robbed. It happens. But how often does the robber shoot their victim in the face? It was more than a robbery; Beth could feel it. No one had ever explored any other motive for the crime. But Beth could add. She knew Vince. Something happened that night.

And Beth didn’t know how to explain it to Geoffrey, or even if she should try. She longed to talk about it with someone. Geoffrey, deep in a dream adventure, was breathing heavily next to her, smelling strongly of his cologne, Makizmo.

Yes, and that scent had to go. It had been Vincent’s cologne too. Very musky and sweet. The smell of it upset Deborah, and even Deb’s strange friend Leep noticed it.

Beth had a little gift for Geoffrey on the night stand. A new cologne. Musky, grassy, citrusy, fresh, and not Makizmo. It was called Conquer.

A new cologne. Beth knew how foolish it was to set landmarks in relationships, but she set one anyway.

Conquer meant both defeat and victory.

Beth moved even closer, and Geoffrey, in his peace and comfort, started to quietly snore.