Too Many Stops

Prompt: Fluff

garden Jenny Beck

Virginia couldn’t deny Cash access to his daughter, no matter what he’d been up to. She was still furious, yes, and couldn’t bear to face him and listen to his apologies and supplications, which would be sincere and heart-felt. And completely irrelevant.

Cash tended to focus on the latest of his transgressions, ignoring the string of mistakes and fuck-ups, some merely annoying, some damaging and humiliating, that led to this place of remorse and repentance. He was late picking up the babysitter— was that a sin worthy of packing up and leaving, taking his beloved daughter away too?

He would promise to be prompt, when that wasn’t the issue at all. And Virginia would have to explain, yet again, that it wasn’t one action it was many— the train they were riding on made too many stops, and so they would never, ever reach their destination.

Meanwhile, Virginia hated listening to herself rattle off the times he’d been late, had behaved like a besotted teenager with other women, forgotten planned events, disregarded legitimate concerns about their home and finances, refused to liaise with his parents and instead allowed them to intrude and interfere. It wasn’t like her to nag and complain; he was turning her into a shrew, and she didn’t like it. She was tired of it. She was tired of him.

So she had the child-minder, Devon, take Virginia’s car and deliver Echo with all her paraphernalia to Cash at the house, and arranged for Devon to pick her up again at the agreed time, six o’clock in the evening.

“There’s no one here,” Devon said.

Virginia held the phone close to her ear. “Say again?”

“There’s no one home, it’s twenty after six, no one’s around,” Devon said. Her voice sounded subdued and calm— if someone was to panic, it wouldn’t be her.

When Cash’s cellphone clicked into the answering service, Virginia called his parents, and when there was no reply, she called the police, who reluctantly told her there was nothing they could do at the moment— they were married, shared a house, he was the father, wasn’t he?

Devon drove Virginia’s BMW X3 the half-mile to Cash’s parents’ house— it was a beautiful, sprawling, white gabled home with an expanse of perfectly manicured lawn in the front, surrounded by azalea and rhododendrons which had been photographed one spring and published in a national home and garden magazine. Devon hadn’t seen the house before. It reminded her of the one she and her old friends had squatted in back in the 90’s.

She walked around most of the perimeter of the house, by the pool, the tennis courts, past the pond and the strange topiary (which Cash had told her gave him nightmares as a child), and what looked like stables, though there were no animals. Twilight was settling upon the estate, and lights, triggered electronically, started turning on automatically inside the house and around the grounds, bathing everything in a golden glow.

If Cash hadn’t brought his baby Echo to his parents, where had he taken her?

Something caught Devon’s eye… something bright and incongruous, a small, fluorescent orange object near the poolhouse. She approached and picked up a plump, fuzzy orange rabbit toy, as soft as the real thing, from the tile.

The door was ajar, and, bunny in hand, Devon pushed it open, and saw Echo’s care bag and toy bag dumped by the entrance to the showers. There was a kind of lounge further in, with a blue sofa, a small fridge, and a flat screen TV. The room was unlit— only the light from the string of bulbs surrounding the pool outside illuminated the room.

Cash was sprawled on the sofa, on his back, with Echo on top of him, her face nestled into his neck, both of them deep in sleep. Cash had his mouth open. A small trickle of vomit dried on Echo’s cheek.

His phone was on a table, vibrating. That would be Virginia.

Devon picked it up.

The Crisis

Prompt: Better

hospital monitor

The silence and darkness of this planet are almost unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one strangely homesick for the often intrusive 24-hour a day noises and lights of Earth. When I lived at Home some of my most memorable vacations were hikes in the deep woods, where the only sound was nature, and even nature turned the volume down overnight, and the only light was from a persistent moon. There was blackness and the silence of trees. Yet I longed for activity, lights, sounds.

Here on Beta Omega (no, we still haven’t agreed on a new name; we are so taken up with other duties of, well, colonizing a new planet) the 20-hour sun cycle grants us eight hours of sunlight and twelve hours of darkness. Ten in the evening is our midnight. The children are asleep well before midnight, and that accounts for a lot of the dark tranquility.

This imbalance, small as it may seem, has had a profound influence on me. And after the Crisis, the silence was as loud as an old SLS.

When she slept in for a few mornings, none of us were surprised. She has always been an active child, and trying to keep pace with her young half-brother (my son Radical) assured she was even more wildly busy during play times. And she is a growing child. Growing can be exhausting; we’ve all transversed growth spurts and strain on our organs and muscles. Angel, as perfect as she was, was no different.

When she collapsed, drained of color, it was not while playing Twistrun with Radical but while reading a book called The Blue Rabbit. Panicked and confused, I scooped her into my arms. Radical was using his quiet time to play a game on his tablet. I roughly grabbed his hand and rushed out of the library, stabbing the emergency button with my forehead on the way out.

Everyone, all of us, appeared in the corridors except for Rosa, who as first medical officer, made her way so swiftly to the lab that she awaited me as I carried Angel through the door, trailed by Radical and then the six others.

Rosa slammed on the quarantine doors. Only Radical and I were allowed to remain, since we’d already been exposed to whatever had felled our darling Angel.

Radical was strangely obedient, not moving from his chair when told to stay put. I helped Rosa as best I could— gently got Angel out of her play clothes and into the bed, held her while she was given the injection, and lifted limbs and hair while Rosa hooked the child up to a web of beeping and blinking monitors.

Then blood and tissue samples were taken. All the while Angel lay as if dead— pale, absolutely still, not even a fluttering of delicate eyelids. Naturally she looked tiny in the full-sized bed, dwarfed by billowing white pillows and sheets.

“What is it, Rosa?”

“I don’t know,” she said, starring at the station monitor. Results of tests cascaded down the screen. “Diagnosis is unclear, there is something like a measles virus apparent.”

“Which is impossible,” I said.

“Correct,” said Rosa. She conferred with Ed regarding the test results, sent him the data. He was a stymied as Rosa and the computer. She looked up from the computer. “You broke protocol. You shouldn’t have moved her.”

“I’m sorry, I panicked,” I said. Rosa turned to the monitor and frowned.

Radical was up and moving about the room. I went to him and led him back to the chairs. I gave him a pair of thin vinyl gloves to play with. He looked at them and then at me as if to say, “Really?”

What he did say was, “What about Angel?”

“Don’t know yet, honey,” I said. I crouched and gave him a hug. He smelled, inexplicably, like sage. He was as stiff and bony as ever— not the most huggable child I’d ever encountered, but he was mine. And Christopher’s. Christopher and Sara must be frantic. They would, I suspected, sacrifice anything to be here in this room with Angel, instead of me.

Rosa gave Radical and I both an injection; Radical didn’t cry. She jabbed herself, despite my offer.

Because of Angel’s high temperature, after a few hours Rosa and Ed decided to induce a coma, and so the child now had a precautionary oxygen mask over her nose and mouth as she lay there. I longed to hold her, console her, somehow send her a message of courage and hope, but she wouldn’t have heard me. She was in a personal battle that was as far from me and those who loved her as Earth was.

Radical went to her bedside, and kissed her upper arm near her elbow, since he couldn’t reach her forehead. “Don’t die, Angel,” he said. “I need you.”

It was a strange thing for a child to say, and I thought about it. I couldn’t sleep, anyway. I sat up with Angel overnight. The room was dimly lit, and the lights and graphs on the monitors streamed and blinked. There were humming noises, and separate, constant beeps. Radical was asleep on the cot, softly snoring as he often did.

I longed for the unbearable silence of an ordinary alien night.

Stress Panic Tremble

Prompt: Year


Envy picked up her cell phone, then put it down again. She was sitting in her car on the street in front of her new condo. It was raining. Inside the second floor apartment, boxes of kitchenware, clothing, papers, books, collectibles, junk, knickknacks, useless trinkets, and meaningless mementoes all awaited her, wanting to be unpacked and put away.

Why had she not been more discerning when she packed? Why had she accepted that box of her high school binders and yearbooks, pictures and trinkets, from her mother? She hated high school. Now high school sat in a box on the second floor of a modern brick building in a questionable, but soon to be upscale, neighbourhood. Or so her realtor had told her.

She could feel the vibes from the high school box emanating from the condo and penetrating the car. She couldn’t help but think of her college friend Tatiana, who always smelled like deep-fried garlic ribs because her apartment was above a Chinese buffet. Would Envy now smell of desperation and despair?

High school was why she kept trying to call Stuart. He’d rapidly become the best friend she had, with Virginia and Cash away, Marcus in prison, and her complete lack of interest (reciprocated) in the passive-aggressive friends of her ex-marriage.

Stuart and his boyfriend Trent had already invited her to join them at a New Year’s Eve party in town. They said it would be fun, quirky, and lots of straight people there too. Free food and liquor, and who knew what? Stuart said with a nudge. Wear what you like, but wear a mask. Come! they said.

And who knows? Maybe they thought she would enjoy it, that she would even contribute to the celebration. They didn’t know that on November the first, before Marcus, and apparently post-Marcus, she traditionally began the pre-December 31 stress panic tremble. She’d almost forgotten herself.

Or maybe it was a pity invitation, like her high school New Year’s Eves had been. Three of them, three miserable endless nights— but at least she’d had the dignity to stay at home the third time. She told her parents she had a cold, and stayed in her bedroom writing angry poems in her journal, plotting her dramatic suicide, and listening to Lucinda Williams. Her brother Cash just laughed at her. What a dick.

She knew it was foolish, but she loved beyond reason that she and Marcus had been able to choose from a respectable stack of party invitations, or choose to welcome the New Year alone at home, in front of the fire, with champagne, lots of sex, more champagne, laughing, and more sex.

Now grey skies rained, and water dribbled down the windshield, and all Envy could think of was Bob, a man she had never met. “He’s not that bad,” said Stuart when he’d first brought up the Bob possibility. At the moment that sounded like a glowing recommendation. Why had she waited so long to pounce on the opportunity to date such a highly valued man? He was not bad looking, Stuart said. That seemed to be the sum of his brag-worthy qualities. “Scrubs up nice, and I happen to know he is completely free at the moment.”

So what if he was a poor conversationist? If he was politically incorrect sometimes? If he was more interested in sports— watching, not playing— than he was in anything else? He was a man’s man. “More like a boy’s boy,” said Stuart. “But I kind of like him. He’s not entirely a bigot.” Not entirely?

“He’s very clean,” said Stuart.

That was it. Envy dug her cell phone out of her pocket one last time and punched in Stuart’s number.

Of course he was at work at the clinic, and she left him a message. “Stuart it’s me. Can you get Bob organized for me? Like, for New Year’s? Would I have to call him, or, what can you do? I know, I know, but you know. Anyway, I have to run, call me back when you get a chance. Love ya.” She threw the phone onto the passenger seat as if it stung her fingers.

Stuart understood. He would help her. In the meantime, a radioactive box of toxic memories was far too close. She started the car. It was Wednesday, and right now, until five pm, the church was handing out food baskets. She would go help Jerry pack up and ship out some cans of tuna, peanut butter, and dry pasta. High school could wait.

Elicit and Day 22

Prompt: Elicit


Does the Daily Prompt word elicit mean the same thing as the word panic? If not, I’m not equipped to talk about elicit, except to say that as a string of letters, it has a nice, sexy sound.

The word panic sounds like what it is. Hard-edged, a bit raw, urgent, not very pretty.

I am almost at 30,000 words with my National Novel Writing Month 50,000 word opus, but you see it is November 22, and I should be at the 36k mark, at least.

Panic. Pancetta. Panini. Pachobel. Peace.

Note to self: Write the effing book!


Prompt: Panic


Tabby dialled 911. Which is to say, she punched in the buttons with trembling fingers: 9-1-1.

She held tightly to Rosa’s hand, shaking her to try and silence her wailing. The bathroom door was closed and locked, and Tabby pressed Rosa and herself tightly against the tiled wall under the window.

“Nicky,” she called through the door. “Have you put it down? Put it down for mommy. Have you put it down?”

“Remain calm,” said a voice in her ear. A person at the call center. Remain calm? Fuck you.

“Mama!” Nicky called back, cheerfully. This was a new game.

Tabby said to the voice: “What do I do?”
She said to Nicky: “Put it on the floor!”
She said to Rosa: “Stay here, right here. Do not move! Do you understand?” Rosa put her thumb in her mouth. She had broken that habit weeks ago.

Then Tabby unlocked the door, and peered around into the bedroom. It was painted a pale yellow, with taupe and navy accents. She’d seen it in a magazine, she forgot which one. It looked better in the magazine, without a pile of laundry on the bed, curtains that had been clawed by the cat, and a child in a dirty diaper on the carpet, waving a loaded gun around.

Nicky held the gun by the handle. It was heavy for him, so he used two hands. He’d seen guns on the TV. Tabby had just been gone a second, two seconds! to turn off the oven when the timer sounded, and when she returned Nicky had the weapon in his sticky little hands. It was too heavy for him to point at his sister’s head, so the muzzle rested against her tummy.

She barely remembered scooping up Rosa and trying to take the gun from Nicky. He pulled away and fell on his back, now aiming at the ceiling. He was at that terrible stage when everything was a “No!” Tabby’s sister had been commiserating with her just the day before, laughing at the stubbornness of the twins. “It’ll pass,” said Nancy with a laugh. “The tyrant stage eventually does. Be patient!”

Be patient? Fuck off.

She rushed into the ensuite and deposited Rosa in the bathtub, then Rosa started screaming and Tabby picked her up and then set her down, and, in a panic, took her cellphone out of her apron pocket and debated whether to call Albert or 911. Al was busy with his nephew’s family, two hundred miles away. He could fix some things, but not this. It was all his fault anyway. Fuck him. Instinctively she called emergency but realized it was a futile move, the disembodied voice an irritant, and she ended the call, tossing the phone into the wastebasket.

Tabby stepped back into the bedroom closed the bathroom door behind her. Rosa had fallen silent. It wouldn’t surprise Tabby if she dropped off to sleep, since it was Rosa’s habit to explode with energy, then, expended, fall asleep where she sat.

“Bang,” said Nicky. His two chubby fingers squeezed the trigger as Tabby reached him. “Bang.”

There was no sound but the suddenly loud ticking of the bedside clock. Nicky looked up into his mother’s eyes, and his face distorted, his eyes and mouth and nose all scrunched together, and he let out a wail loud enough to wake his sleeping sister.

Nicky didn’t resist when Tabby took the gun from him. The grip was sticky. She carefully put it on top of the wardrobe. She picked up the boy and held him until his cries subsided into hiccups, then fetched Rosa from the bathtub.

“I’m glad you didn’t call the police,” Albert said when she called him, after she had calmed down enough and put the twins down for a nap. “Don’t need them nosing around. Anyway, the safety was on.”

Fuck you.


Damn Cat

Prompt: Learning

cat bw

Friendly was hiding.

Jerry Plankton was fine with that, except that the cat might be doing some damage, scratching or peeing, or something. Lily-Rose said he would likely sleep most of the day, and that she showed him where the litter box was (in the hall at the top of the basement stairs), and that it was “unlikely” there would be any messes made.

Friendly had a bite— which is to say that he got into a fight with another creature, who broke Friendly’s skin with its teeth. This didn’t surprise Jerry, as Friendly was one of the most ill-tempered cats he had ever come across. He was territorial to the extreme. He would hiss and raise his paw, sharp nails fully extended, if you came too close to invading his private space, which appeared to be about a three foot radius. He had already scratched the top of Jerry’s hand, and pulled the threads on one of Jerry’s good pair of church pants.

Lily-Rose had superficially treated the bite, which was on the left side of Friendly’s neck. When she returned from school, she would take Friendly to the vet. The cat couldn’t stay at Lily-Rose’s house because her cat door didn’t lock, and she didn’t want Friendly to go outside and possibly engage in another fight, or pass along some kind of infection to the other cats in the neighbourhood.

She seemed to love that cat. The cat, in return, benignly ignored Lily-Rose.

Jerry thought he might as well find it and see if it was ok. He stoically tolerated the sharp pain in his knees when he crouched down to peer under the bed in the guestroom, and then almost suffered a scratch across his cheek. Friendly’s eyes were shiny amber marble orbs. Jerry recognized terror, loathing, and panic in those eyes as Friendly stared unblinkingly at him, daring him to come closer.

Jerry retreated and went to check the litter box. On the floor outside the box was a perfectly formed oblong of cat poo, Friendly’s message to Jerry.

Some songs lyrics flew into Jerry’s head:

I guess you say
What could make me feel this way…

Why would Friendly be so utterly fuck-you?

He was, Jerry thought, behaving the way Jerry felt that terrible year after his wife died. He also felt fear, loathing and panic. He also kept everyone who might have helped him at a distance, a distance closer to three miles than three feet.

Poor, damn cat. Jerry had time, years even, to come to terms with what happened, to forgive and almost accept. Jerry was a person with a brain and a heart that wanted to heal. Friendly, a cat, would live angry and fearful, and would die angry and fearful.

Jerry Plankton got a wad of paper towels and some Spray-Kleen and scooped up the cat shit. He thought he might go outside and spend some time in the garden. Lily-Rose would be home soon.

Poor, damn cat.