Hot

Prompt: Memory

woman damaged_Fotor

Leep awoke, feeling too hot. He’d had that dream again. The too hot dream.

It was more a memory than a dream because Leep did remember it, it was real, that sharp fragment from a life he had mostly forgotten. But he couldn’t understand why it played on a loop in his dreams, over and over.

He was a boy, sitting on a chair behind a floor to ceiling plastic curtain. The curtain was white with a pattern of solid red circles struck through by solid red lines. The pattern made Leep uneasy— it felt unfinished, wrong, hostile, and it was all he had to look at.

But the coffee finished percolating. He heard the silence. So he stood, pulled the curtain aside and went to the counter where he unplugged the pot.

A woman sat at a formica-topped table. The table was edged with shiny, ridged chrome, and the pattern on the top was sky blue with white starbursts. She wore a starched white dress with sensible white shoes, badly scuffed and starting to wear at the heel.

The pot was heavy for a boy, but Leep was careful. He poured steaming coffee into the white porcelain cup set before the woman. She took a sip.

“Too hot,” she said.

And Leep awakened in the dark. He got out of bed, took his gun out of the side table drawer, and went into the hallway. He put his navy blue nylon jacket with the hood over his black pyjamas, pulled on his boots, and stuffed a dark woollen scarf into a pocket.

And he walked, in that perfect deep abandoned silence, through streets and alleyways and across parks, until his legs ached and he found himself in the parking lot of the hospital. He wrapped the scarf around his mouth and nose so only his eyes showed, and waited until a lone nurse, in a pink pantsuit with navy blue piping, emerged from the glowing light of the hospital’s east entrance and approached the row of parked cars.

He crept out from the shadows as she reached into her handbag for the keys to her car, a grey Toyota.

“Give me your wallet,” he said, as usual. “I have a gun.”

She was in her forties, plump, with frizzy ash blonde hair. She was Theresa, Anthony’s daughter, and Leep had helped her get her father home one day when he’d passed out on the bus stop bench. He hadn’t known she was a nurse.

She looked startled, but they all did.

She said, “Leep, is that you?”

Leep took the gun out of his pocket and pointed it at her. “No,” he said. What was he going to say? “Hey, how’s the old man?”

She had forty-five dollars in her wallet, and in the clear plastic slot for a driver’s licence she instead had a picture of a boy, about twelve years old, staring out from under a red baseball cap.

Leep threw the wallet as hard as he could, towards the hospital entrance.

“Go get it,” he said.

When Theresa turned, Leep ran. He took the back alleys, crossed parks now damp with dew, through shadows of dim unlit streets until he reached his house.

He felt sweat trickle down his torso and prick the back of his neck.

Too hot.

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Chandler’s Folly [Repost]

Prompt: Retrospective

bonfire-column_of_sparks_by_the_emerald_otter

It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.

Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.

It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?

“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”

She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.

“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.

“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.

She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”

She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.

The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters,  a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.

“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Folly.”

“Folly?”

She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”

And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.

I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.


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.

Makizmo

Prompt: Scent

broken-pottery

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

victorian-house-1cr-2jpeg

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

marathon-man-dustin

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.”