The Garden

Prompt: Recreate

swing in park

“And what were you doing before you started running away?”

“I was on a swing, in the park beside the school,” said Folly.

“Where is the school?”

“Down past that traffic light,” she said.

I accelerated and we lurched forward on the little Yamaha TW we’d found leaning up against someone’s garage door. I wanted to get around quickly for this “game”, not lumber through town from inside a closed vehicle.

Every red light still triggered a stop impulse, but this time I didn’t even slow down. Folly was clinging to me tightly, her hands bunching the front of my down vest.

I saw the swings, and the small adventure playground, the soccer goalposts, and the tiny basketball court, all neatly laid out beside a sprawling one-story elementary school.

“I sat in that swing,” said Folly. “There was a puddle on the ground under it, and my feet got wet.”

“And before that?” I learned that Folly was more comfortable answering questions when we were not face to face. We slowed to a stop and but she did not release her grip on me. I could feel her cheek pressed against my back.

“I— “

“Folly, think now.”

“Everyone died,” she said. “I ran home! And they were dead, too.”

“Where? Which way is home?” This was as far as we’d ever gotten, and I felt it was our last chance to find Folly’s house and get her memories back.

She had the bad memories. The inside of her head was a once a safe garden, but the garden was now overgrown with thorns and weeds and their alien blooms, choking out the lilac and brilliant pinks of the hydrangea and the lime leaves of the ninebark, twining around her thin legs freezing her in place.

I could feel her trembling, and resisted the urge to comfort her. “Which way, Folly?”

“The lane, go down the lane.”

The lane was surfaced in gravel, which resisted and spit and almost caused me to lose control, but I slowed down and we passed by the leafy green back yards of homes that had once housed Folly’s neighbours and friends. She’d told me her house was yellow, and there was only one yellow house, at the end of the lane, on the corner.

“Go in the back way,” said Folly. We got off the bike and opened the gate, stepping into a tidy green garden with a mature ornamental cherry tree, masses of sumac starting to change color, and a small pup tent set up on the flat lawn.

“This is the way you went to school, and to the park?” I asked her.

She nodded. She was wearing a fleece hoodie that was too big for her and fit more like a dress, and denim leggings with rubber boots. Her hair was uncombed and tangled from the bike ride. She was deathly pale.

The gate had a rusted metal bell on it, that clanged when it was shut, no doubt meant as an alert for Folly’s mother or father. The lawn, once carefully tended grass, was now a ground cover of what looked like thyme.

She didn’t look in the pup tent on her way to the back porch, but I did. Inside was a rumpled tartan blanket and a flashlight.

Large-leafed ivy climbed the exterior walls of the house, drooping down over the doorway, which was probably not there the last time she was here.

It was unlocked. I let Folly lead the way, silent. This was her moment, her most important moment, and she had to face it alone and on her own terms. What could I do? A big stupid teenager who knew nothing of her family, her past, what she’d lost. I knew my own loss and I had some idea of what was churning around in her gut, but comfort could only come later.

The house was smaller than the one I grew up in, with the traditional separate, somewhat small rooms: kitchen, dining room, small formal living room, and a very untidy family room. On the floor and tables were boxed games, like Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit, open and the contents scattered about the room. There were towels, too, crumpled on the couch, and a bookcase with a full set of encyclopaedias, something I’d never seen before.

Folly picked up a towel and smelled it. She put it down again.

“I know my name now,” she said.


Leep Has Depth

Prompt: Pattern

Hawaii scene round

“What in hell are you wearing, Leep?” asked Deborah, when she looked up from the mixing bowl. She was using a hand mixer to bake a Duncan Hines cake. Leep had a fleeting moment of intense desire to lick the chocolate batter off the beaters. Something was burning. It was the oven preheating, and making the kitchen fragrant with burnt pizza sauce.

Deborah’s mother, Beth (or Lizzie, as Leep called her, in his head) wasn’t in the vicinity to chide her daughter for being rude, as she usually did when Deb made a thoughtless comment about Leep. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to it. Pretty well everyone at the mill did the same. Deborah’s dead husband, Vincent, used to make all kinds of comments. To be honest, Leep was never quite sure if they were joking around or what. You have to develop a thick skin when you are kind of quiet, like Leep.

Still, Leep could feel the roots of his hair grow hot. His face was probably red.

“It was a gift,” said Leep, immediately feeling he had betrayed his new editor, Amanda Thirsty, who had gifted the shirt to him when it was too small for her brother. Instead of tacitly admitting there was something wrong with the shirt and blaming Amanda, Leep should have stepped up and defended it. Was it too late?

“It’s vintage—“

“It’s godawful. What the fuck,” said Deborah. She might have been talking about the weather. It wasn’t important. She was just pointing it out; she didn’t care.

She put the mixer on a cutting board, and poured the batter from the bowl into two prepared, round cake tins.

The short-sleeved shirt was covered in images of waterfalls, flying fish, hibiscus, and something that looked like fat, green worms. Even Leep wasn’t sure what they were. It was not the kind of thing he usually wore. Maybe he wanted to show Deborah and Lizzie that he had depth. He didn’t just wear plain t-shirts and jackets. This was colourful and vintage. Amanda’s brother liked vintage things, and antiques and stuff. But in this case, if Leep really thought about it, maybe it wasn’t really too small. Maybe her brother hated the pattern, too.

“Oh my god, Leep!” said Lizzie as she suddenly stumbled into the kitchen and dropped two grocery bags onto the counter. “Crazy shirt! I love it. Reminds me of when Deb’s father and I were stationed in Hawaii.” She wore denim capris and a cropped white shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a rough ponytail, strands of hair stuck to a sweaty forehead. She took Leep’s breath away.

“It’s hideous,” said Deborah, careful setting the cake pans onto the rack in the oven.

“Deborah, you insist on being rude to Leep,” Lizzie said, and Leep blushed again. “Oooh, chocolate batter!” She scooped up both the mixer beaters and gave one to Leep. “Put the milk and butter away, would you Deb?” And she led Leep out onto the back patio, where they sat in plastic strapped lawn chairs and licked the batter.

“Does this remind you of your mother’s kitchen when you were a kid?” Lizzie asked. “You know when she baked… and later there would be icing to lick.”

“Oh sure,” Leep lied. He had the memory, but it wasn’t real. His mother had never baked a cake, or given her son a beater coated in chocolate batter. It didn’t taste quite as good as he had imagined, but it felt pretty nice pretending it did.


Prompt: Scent


The last thing Deborah expected was the scent of Vincent. That is, the scent of his cologne, inhabiting her mother’s house like a coat of paint, assaulting her as soon as she walked through the front door.

She put the bottle of wine on the kitchen counter, where there was a note: Put cass in oven 325 back 6. Why did her mother have to write as if every character was as painful as plucking hair from the roots? It’s not as if she was busy, or even working anymore.

There was a clear pyrex dish on the counter, covered in foil. Inside looked like some kind of macaroni casserole. Leave the foil on or off? The note didn’t say. Deborah turned the oven to 325 degrees and put the casserole dish in cold. She glanced at the wall clock. Half an hour before her mother said she’d be back.

Deborah went to the cupboard, pulled out one of her mother’s china plates, and smashed it into the sink. She sat at the table and cried, drying her tears with paper towels. She carefully gathered up the delicate and unsalvageable shards of the plate and put them in the garbage can in the corner. She went into the bathroom and washed her face. She used the face cloth to scrub under her arms too, since the scent of Vincent caused her to sweat into her blouse.

Vincent smelled like lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar. That was the fragrance, Makizmo, that he chose to wear, when he was alive. Deborah knew of no one else who wore it. Smelling it now made her think of Vincent’s arms— he was so proud of his well-toned arms, and was fond of tank tops even though Deborah thought they made him look rough and common. She thought of the way he bit her ear when they made love. She thought about his laugh, the way he threw his head back and there was just that moment of pause before the guffaw burst out. She thought about how he loved and missed his childhood dog, Chummy, and how that creature was the only sentimental topic in his repertoire. She thought about his body, his face shot off, the closed coffin at his funeral.

Vincent was gone. Deborah was on her own. She was recovering. She was back at work. She was able to pay the monthly mortgage on her little house, the one she had shared with Vincent, thanks to financial help from Uncle Al and her mother. She was moving on with her life, like every single person she ever talked to kept telling her to do.

And then her mother goes and lets Vincent back in the house.

Deborah went to her mother’s bedroom. The bed was hastily made. The scent was stronger here. She picked up a pillow and pressed it to her face. It was awash with the scent of lime leaves, musk, and burnt sugar.

She heard the front door open, and her mother call her name. Her mother, the whore who let Vincent into the house, who let Vincent sleep in her bed that day even though Deborah was to be her guest that evening.

She went to the bedroom window and drew back the curtains, throwing open the window to a gust of frigid air that raised goosebumps on her arms and neck. In a moment, she felt warm arms reach around her and pull the window closed again, then clasp her tightly, lovingly, silently.

It smelled like Vincent.

The Body

Prompt: Devastation


Tall grasses and weeds had been replaced by creeping ivies and thyme, so the orderly row of houses looked as if their front gardens had been recently tended. It looked almost normal, except for the empty silence.

This was Chandler’s Folly, the purpose-built town with the perfect stone churches, the manicured playgrounds, the houses lovingly occupied, families living in tolerant accord, and the crazy system of never-used underground tunnels. A little girl had fled the town into the woods when the world ended, scrubbing along for weeks before she stumbled upon me and Plato; thin, dirty, and unable to remember even her name.

Now my dog Plato leaned up against the girl, who had named herself Folly, as if to support her, as we three stood in the middle of the road gazing at tidy home after tidy home, waiting for her to move or speak. She’d agreed to come and I’d explained that it might be tough. It was tough for me and Plato to search for my parents and sisters. But strangely, the only way we could have survived was to realize that we were completely alone. My parents were not going to bail me out. My sisters no longer existed.

Finally, Folly said, “Do you see anyone?”

“No Folly, I don’t.” It was probable she didn’t trust her own eyes. “Which way is your house?”

“They look alike,” said Folly.

“What colour was your house?” I prompted.

“Yellow,” said Folly. Well, that narrowed it down to about two hundred.

“What else do you remember?”

“The horses,” said Folly. She kneeled down and wrapped her arms around Plato’s neck. He bore the hug with great fortitude and patience.

Folly then closed her eyes. “Can we go now?”

“Back to the motel?”

Folly nodded, eyes still tightly shut. “Don’t make me look,” she said.

So Plato and I guided her back to the red Jag, and she sat in the back while Plato took the passenger seat beside me. I drove straight ahead instead of turning around and going back the way we’d come. Folly had her eyes closed, but I wanted a bit of a look around.

That’s when I saw a body on the porch of a two storey, neo-Victorian house, not far from the domed library. At least it looked like a body, slumped in a rocking chair, as still and frozen in time as everything else in Chandler’s Folly. I coasted the Jag to a stop. Plato and I had already travelled half-way across the country, and the only body, living or dead, we’d encountered was Folly’s.

Plato saw the body too— hard to tell if it was a man or a woman— and whimpered softly. I glanced at Folly, who was tense and stiff, her hands now covering her eyes as back-up protection.

“Folly,” I said, “I’m gonna go drop you off at the Best Western. Could you find some soup and bread for dinner?”

She said, “Yes. Are we gone?”

“Not yet,” I said.

Movie Review from Memory: Marathon Man

Prompt: Marathon


Without consulting IMDB, I will now attempt to review the classic thriller, Marathon Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and released, I think, in the 1970s, which many call the Golden Age of Hollywood movies. Think The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Chinatown, American Graffiti, The Sting, Blazing Saddles, M*A*S*H*, Straw Dogs, Klute, Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, Jaws, Taxi Driver, Network, Annie Hall, The French Connection, Blazing Saddles, Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Exorcist, Saturday Night Fever, and so many more. (Whatever happened to good, original movies? A question for another time.)

All most people can remember about the film Marathon Man is the torture scene, where Dustin Hoffman’s character is submitted to a dentist’s drill and well— suffice it to say I have a bit of a phobia about going to the dentist.

Is it safe?” I swear I will up and die if my dentist ever utters those words to me at any time and in any context.

Was this movie in black and white? I remember it as such. Dustin Hoffman is the bumbling, humble everyman, who gets into trouble when his spy brother, played by Roy Scheider, is killed while tracking down a Nazi concentration camp doctor, the ever brilliant Lawrence Olivier. This evil, evil character wants to know, I think, if he can safely sell the millions of dollars worth of diamonds that he stole from Holocaust victims.

Dentists, concentration camps, a Dr Mengele character— it all sounds pretty awful, right? But this film is a thriller worth watching, as Dustin Hoffman tries to survive pursuit by the relentless Nazi doctor, and part of this involves running? Yes, thus the title. I remember a magnificent scene which took place in the diamond district of New York City, a predominantly Jewish part of town, where the evil doctor ventures with great trepidation tempered by an insatiable, delicious greed.

Does a Holocaust survivor recognize him and scream at him like the Donald Sutherland character at the end of The Body Snatchers?

You betcha.

Later: I have now checked in with IMDB, and Marathon Man was in colour (I got Giant wrong too), but was indeed made in 1976. Here is the trailer:

And a bit of famous movie trivia about Olivier and Hoffman in Marathon Man:

Dustin Hoffman (being a “method actor”) stayed up all night to play a character who has stayed up all night. Arriving on the set, Lawrence Olivier asked Hoffman why he looked the way he did. Hoffman told him, to which Olivier replied in jest, “Why not try acting? It’s much easier.”

Movie Review from Memory: Giant

Prompt: Giant


I saw the movie Giant quite awhile after it was first released in 1956, and I watched it on TV with commercials, which gave all of us the opportunity to to get a snack, go to the bathroom, or look out the window and wonder how stars hang in the sky, though no one did that.

The move was in black and white, or that could just have been our TV at the time.

Without reading the IMDB summary, I will give my review by memory, and my memory sucks. But here we go: Giant, as I remember it.

It was about oil, and possibly ranching, and took place in a very dusty Texas. Rock Hudson was in it, and the alleged teen idol, James Dean, who died young. Rock Hudson played manly parts in films, which is in no way inconsistent with the fact that he was gay, but no one knew it at the time, except for Elizabeth Taylor, and really, it was no one’s business. Do you share your sexual proclivities with everyone you meet?

Elizabeth Taylor was, as usual, a luminous beauty, and the cause of conflict between the establishment type, Rock, and the rebel, James Dean. They struck oil on their land, and I remember that as a very exciting scene!– which might be on YouTube; but Rock and James had a terrible, violent disagreement, which led to their estrangement.

This is a sweeping epic spanning many long years, though I only remember the beginning and the end, in which everyone had aged. So Elizabeth, Rock, and James were all made up to look old, which never really works.

So, if you like sweeping epics, movie idols in movies (and who doesn’t?), a woman in the middle and the cause of conflict yet again, and interesting makeup decisions, be sure to catch the movie Giant.

Ok, it was in colour, not black and white.

Trivia, courtesy of IMBD:

The lead character, Jett Rink [played by James Dean], was based upon the life of Texas oilman Glenn H. McCarthy (1907-88), an Irish immigrant who would later be associated with a symbol of opulence in Houston, Texas: the Shamrock Hotel, which opened on St. Patrick’s Day, 1949. Author Edna Ferber met McCarthy when she was a guest at his Houston, Texas, Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955), the fictional Emperador Hotel in both the book and the film.

Happy Time

Prompt: Blank


Kimberly watched her mother fill in the cheque. It looked as natural to her as her breathing. She eyed the paper fondly, as if it were an old friend. The pen, lightly clasped in her hand, seemed to guide her, rather than the other way around. It was gold in colour, part of a set. Her mother had several desk sets, corporate gifts to her husband, that Donna swapped out regularly.

She must have developed special muscles to sign cheques with such a flourish, the flourish of an artist, a dancer. Instead of being an artist or a dancer, she was a woman who excelled in writing cheques.

There was a tiny smile on her mother’s face. It was her resting face. Unlike Kimberly, who had a “resting bitch face”– an intimidating scowl– no matter what her mood. Perhaps her mother had willed her face that way, or perhaps Dr Stanford had done it. A tiny, tiny smile, that suddenly, to Kimberly, made no sense. It was enraging. She clenched her hands into a fist, digging her nails into her palms.

A memory parachuted into her mind: she was in a small inflatable wading pool  with another little girl, playing. Their mothers sat in lawn chairs nearby. When the little girl and her mother were gone, she and her mother were alone in the kitchen, and there was a puddle on the white tile floor, and Kimberly was shivering in her wet bathing suit, desperate for her mother’s warmth, and her mother shouted at her. Kimberly couldn’t remember what she said. She only remembered feeling cold and lost. She shivered now.

“There,” said Mrs Bak, triumphantly tearing the cheque out of the book with another flourish, and offering it to Jo, who stood in front of her desk like a supplicant.

Jo took the cheque and, pretending not to read it, folded it and put it into the zippered compartment of her leather bag.

“The balance on successful completion, now,” said Mrs Bak.

“Of course,” said Jo.

“I want this wedding to be subtle,” Mrs Bak said.

Kimberly laughed.

Her mother frowned at her and continued. “Subtle as opposed to ostentatious. The best of everything, but not twee or frilly or overpowering. Do you understand?”

Kimberly said, “I think Jo gets that you want the world to admire and envy you, without your seeming to care if they do or not.”

“Jo?” said Mrs Bak, ignoring Kimberly, the tiny smile back.

“I understand completely,” said Jo.

“Kimmy, what time is the fitting? We should probably be off.” She rose to her feet, smoothing her skirt. “Don’t look so glum! This is a happy time, despite your cynicism.”

“I’m deliriously happy,” said Kimberly. “This is just my resting bitch face.”