Monday, March 28, 2011

Flash Fiction The Portrait

So, it hasn't even been a week since I posted the last Flash Fiction, but I was really late getting the last one in.  Not so this time!  Yes, Chuck at Terrbileminds is at it again, putting up an all too interesting challenging that most of us couldn't resist.  He posted this picture and asked everyone to write a story, whatever it might be, that fit the portrait.  You should go over, check out some of the other stories, and leave comments.  The writers are just amazing.  As soon as I post this, I'm heading back to read some more!

But before you go, I hope you'll enjoy my little entry in The Portrait Flash Fiction challenge:

“And here we have our most intriguing display.”  The plump, gray haired woman stopped in front of a spindle legged table which stood in the middle of the traditional southern sitting room.  “As you can see, this portrait is quite old.  Though there isn’t a date on the image itself, experts have estimated that this picture was taken between 1840 and 1850.”

I stared at the sepia image of the man in the oval frame, which was carefully protected by a thick glass box.  It was surrounded by miniature skeletons, probably made in Taiwan, I thought with a sigh, but I supposed they gave the display the creepy feel that the D’Arnoult House advertised.

“Who…who is he?”  The tiny man with a bald spot scooted closer and aimed his camera.

The tour guide gave a wide smile and lowered her voice, as if she were sharing a great, dark secret.  “Some say he was the lover of Mrs. Francois D’Arnoult.  Supposedly he was a handsome young man, educated, but from a working class family.  It’s said he swept the young D’Arnoult bride off her feet, and they fell madly in love with each other.  When her husband, Mr. D’Arnoult, found out, he used his influence within the more…unsavory parts of the community to curse him.  He took this picture and kept it displayed so his wife could see it every day to remind her of what would happen should she stray again.”

A wide eyed young lady fluttered a hand at her chest and asked, “But what happened to him?  The young man, I mean.”

“No one knows for sure.  Some say he was taken in by the very woman who cursed him.  Some say he ran off into the swamp and was killed.  Still others say he snuck back here one night, where he committed suicide in the carriage house.”  The older woman leaned in, her face full of the joy of the macabre.  “Whatever happened, many of our visitors swear they still see him on these very grounds, searching for the woman he loves.”

That elicited romantic sighs from some, skeptic chuckles from others, but all seemed to enjoy the story.  I kept my mouth tight, rolling my lips together to keep from speaking.  As the tour guide ushered the group out of the small drawing room and into the study, I stayed behind.  When I was completely alone I stepped closer to the picture, my heart pounding with too many emotions to name.

“Hello, Grandfather Fossier.”  My words were soft, a prayer spoken in the sanctity of the tiny room.

He didn’t speak back, only stared at me with sightless eyes.  Still, I felt as if he were there, watching, relieved to be recognized at long last.  My great-great grandfather.  The missing link of my genealogy.  The man who’d only been a first name for too many generations.  Here he was, finally, in one of the only two images that survived of him.

The protrusions on his face were like bone spikes; the jagged teeth and hugely yawning jaw were sadly terrifying.  Some mutated form of Exostoses?  A curse from a Voodoo Priestess?  No one knew; likely no one would ever find out.  It had never occurred again in our family history. 

I had been researching my family history two years before and had come across the name Phillipe, no surname; it had intrigued me.  No one had heard of him, not my mother or uncles or aunts.  I searched family and public records, and as the days turned into weeks, and weeks to months, I was frustrated and not a little angry with the blank results.  Then I found two clues.  First was an entry in my great grandmother’s diary written on the night before her wedding.  She spoke of her real father coming to see her, a man who wore a low brimmed hat and scarf surrounding his face.  He told her she was as beautiful as her mother, and was glad the Fossier curse hadn’t touched her.  The next day I closeted myself in my mother’s attic and began digging through all the old family keepsakes.  And there they were, a small pile of ribbon tied letters, carefully preserved in a sealed bag, wrapped tenderly in a vintage wedding dress.  Obviously my grandmother had found these, but had never revealed any of the truth.

With a surname as well as a town name, I searched again.  It wasn’t so hard this time; there were very few records of my great-great grandfather.  His birth record in Baton Rouge; his death record in New Orleans.  He had never served in the Civil War.  Most likely they would never have taken him.  There was no record of employment, no records of medical care, no records of marriage or children.

I knew he had been truly happy once, when he’d been in love with my Great-Great Grandmother Sophia.  The tour guide’s story was a twisted version of the truth, of which I knew the real answers.  Sophia and Phillipe had been lovers, she from an influential family, he from a poor one.  When she found herself pregnant, Phillipe had known she couldn’t be with him, and so he had walked away after making plans with the gracious and rich Monsieur D’Arnoult, whom had been Phillipe’s patron.  D’Arnoult had married Sophia knowing she was carrying Phillipe’s child.  And Francois had loved that child as his own, just as he’d cared for both Sophia and Phillipe.  There had been no curse.  There had been no torrid adultery.  There had only been love and friendship, and, many generations later, my children had come from that.  Because of their sacrifice, I felt it was only right to abide by their wishes.  I would keep their secret.  But I would visit, and when my children were old enough, I would share the story with them.

I kissed my fingertips, rested them for a moment on the glass display.  “Thank you grandfather.  I’ll come back next week.”

I left the old antebellum house quietly, holding myself a little straighter, a little prouder, as I shut the door on the chattering of the tour guide.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Flash Fiction Pulp Babies

Yes, you read that correctly.  This week's flash fiction is all about pulp, noir, detective, adventure...babies!  Chuck at Terribleminds put forth this challenge, and I'm coming in just under the wire.  It's been a busy week. But I just had to do this; oh, and do yourself a favor and head over to read all the terrific entries.  They are superb!  So, for all of you, here is my Baby Pulp Fiction (no working title, sorry):

It was the usual Tuesday afternoon.  Hot, sunny, the mommy-broads chattering like birds as they sat on the hard green benches.  The other lugs sat around the sandbox, jabbering and blabbering about nappies and pacifiers and when they were gonna score their next gummy snack.  It was hard listening to them; I’d kicked the gummies to the curb weeks ago, but just thinking about them made my hands shake.  I should have listened to my doctor when he said the sugar was poison.

I was trying to think of something else when I saw her.  Big blue eyes, curls of blond hair, plump gams that let a man know she wasn’t afraid to walk on her own…and all over your heart.  Her pink jumper was expensive and classy; no smears of peas or juice on the pristine material.  She scanned the park, turned her nose up, and sashayed away.  Pretty but high maintenance; too posh for the likes of me, but nice to look at.  I’d sworn off women the same day I swore off the poison.  Both would kill you quicker than you could breathe.


Her sweet voice made me look up.  There she stood, little Daisy, all doe eyes, pigtails, and red dress.  I liked Daisy.  She was a good dame, too nice for her own good.  I pulled my pacifier from my pocket and chewed on it.

“Sammy, I need help.”

“I don’t go in for that anymore, Daisy.  Not since…”  I couldn’t speak of the clown incident.  It was still too painful.

Her eyes filled with tears and she sniffled her little nose.  “But Paddy’s gone!”

The desperation was hard to hear.  Harder to ignore.  “What’d ya mean, gone?”

“Kidnapped!  Oh, Sammy, someone took him and left me this note.”

She shoved a paper at me.  The thing was lousy with purple crayon and pointy hearts.  It was a hideous warning I wanted to ignore.  But I knew Paddy; he’d helped me through hard times, held my hand when some scum lug had whacked a swing into my head.  I couldn’t walk away.

I put my pacifier back into my pocket.  “All right, Daisy.  When’s the last time you saw – “

Benny ambled up, a wide bully with a big mouth.  “Hi ya, cutie.  Wanna come see my sandcastle?”

Daisy stomped on his foot.  She didn’t mind a little retaliation; I liked that about her.  “You’re a brute, Benny.  Go stuff your sandcastle!”

I almost laughed.  “Amscray, Ben.”

He sneered, but steered away, aiming himself for the new girl.  Good luck, I thought, and turned back to Daisy.

“So, when’d ya get the note?”

“It was in my car seat this morning.  Oh, Sammy, you don’t think they’d hurt him?” 

The last thing I needed was a nervous dame.  “They won’t pop him.”  At least not yet.  “You seen anyone out of the ordinary at your house?  Anyone hanging out?”

She shook her head.  “Nothing.”

“You go any place you don’t usually?”  Lots of times people left their things behind when they were excited.

“The grocery store…cleaners…Benny’s place on Wednesday – “

That perked up the peepers.  “Benny’s?  Why’d you go there?  You didn’t go to score gummies, did ya?”

She glared at me.  “I don’t need bootlegged poison, Sammy.  Mommy keeps raisins for me.  We dropped off a cake for his daddy’s birthday.”

I snorted.  “Fine, you didn’t go for poison.  Did you take Paddy in?”

“No, I left him in the car.  I was afraid he’d hurt him, and Paddy’s just a little bear.”

I nodded; Paddy was a sweet puluka who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  “Did you see him after that?”

“Well…I…no.”  Her eyes got even bigger.  “You don’t think Benny…but he was inside the whole time!”

I didn’t want to do it, but I knew I had to talk to the blockhead.  I toddled over to him, rolled my eyes when I heard him making a play for blondie.  She tossed her hair and stuck her chin up.

“Benny, I gotta question for ya.”

He turned and sneered.  “What’d ya want, Sam?  Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“Yeah, sure.”  The blonde wrinkled her nose at me.  “Anything strange happen in your neighborhood this week?”

Benny swung his pacifier on its chord and tried to look tough.  “Depends on what you mean by strange.  The boy next door got himself a dame.  With all those pimples it seems strange to me he’d get a girl.”

“Anything else?  Anything actually helpful.”

He shrugged.  “Same as always.  Except Ruby here; she moved in this week.  Tuesday, wasn’t it doll.”

She twisted a curl around her finger.  “Yeah, what about it?”

I looked at her, saw the heart clips in her hair, and got suspicious.  “Mind if I see your hands?”

She gave me a pout but stuck out her chubby fingers.  It was exactly what I thought.  I stared at her and she snatched her hands back.

“Your stuff still packed up?” 

Ruby stomped her foot.  “What’s it to you?”

I nodded and pulled my pacifier out of my pocket.  “You got something still tucked in a box, sweetheart?  Maybe a stuffed animal?”

She gasped.  “It’s none of your business, you big mook!”

“Don’t have many friends, do ya?”  I chomped on the plastic nub of my pacifier for a moment.  “Didn’t have many before.  That’s why you took Paddy.  You saw an opportunity to have a bear to snuggle until you got yours, and another to force someone to play with you.”

Ruby fell on her diapered bottom and began to sob.  I didn’t need to hear the confession.  The purple crayon under her fingernails said it all.  Benny stared at me, then at Ruby, then back at me.

“She took Daisy’s bear, tried to use him to make Daisy play with her.” 

“Please…please don’t tell my mommy!”  She wailed so loud the mommy-broads began running over to us.

“Just bring the bear to the Jumpy Palace for our play day tomorrow, and we can forget about it.”  I turned to leave, but before the mommy-broads reached us I decided to give her a piece of advice.  “You wanna make friends around here, sweetheart, apologize.”

As the mommy-broads bent down to cuddle Ruby and Benny I toddled back to Daisy to give her the good news.  I missed this, the thrill of discovery, the sweet smile of relief.  Maybe someday I’d be able to get past the clown incident.  For now I was happy to know Paddy would be back home by tomorrow night.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Isn't There Something In Between?

I went shopping with my daughter yesterday.  She's not quite reached her double digit years, but she's always been quite the fashionista.  Seriously, she has better fashion sense than half the designers in Milan.  But I digress.  We were clothes shopping yesterday, looking for summer stuff, and we went to a famous store.  I'll not name names, but I'll tell you it starts with a T.  So we were at T, and we went straight to the Girl's Section, since that's where we usually go.  We loaded our cart with several outfits and headed to the dressing rooms.  She tried on the clothes...and they didn't quite fit.  Just a little too tight and/or a little too short for her body.

Okay, I thought, it must be time to hit the Junior's Department.  No big deal.  She's always been a big girl (and I don't mean so much chunky as tall and broad...let's just she has my figure, which means Jane Russell is our mentor).  So we go to the Junior's section.  She wasn't at all impressed with the styles, but I told her we should look, because sometimes you can find little gems.  We dug, we scavenged, we flipped through racks; we found nothing.  Let me explain what that means: the clothes (shirts in particular) were V shaped.  And not lower case v, but "V".  And no U, not even a slightly broader bottomed V.  Now, I'm not physiologist, doctor, or dietitian, but it seems to me that girls who are this tiny in the waist can't be that healthy.  Not just tiny in the waist, but huge in the, um, chest area.  I was skinny as a teenager; seriously, I had a small waist.  None of my friends, who were all shapes and sizes, were that small, nor were we proportioned like that.  None of the teenage girls I know right now are shaped like this.  I was horrified and mesmerized.  Was I feeding my daughter wrong?  Was she a mutant?  Or were we the "norm" in a mutant society?  What was going on??

So there I stood in the Junior's Department, my little girl staring at me almost in tears, asking me if she had an okay shape.  Was she fat?  Then this always chipper, bright girl turned gloomy faced and said she hated shopping (yeah, right) and hated clothes (um, not buying it).  All the women reading this will know what she really meant: I hate myself and my body.  I soothed her, immediately told her that she was fine, she's not overweight (if she was her plain spoken doctor would have had no qualms in telling us), and the clothes were just too mature for her.  Plus they were blah looking anyway.  She calmed down, managed a smile, and we left after purchasing only a swimsuit (ironically enough found in the Girl's Department, and it was actually loose). 

We headed to another major retail store, I'll call it ON, and there had a very helpful saleswoman take pity on us.  I probably looked as frazzled as I felt.  She immediately asked if I wanted the clothes to perfectly fit, or be slightly big.  I said bigger, so she told me we might be looking for plus, though she pointed out belts to help keep the shorts up (yep, even she saw my daughter isn't overweight).  She asked if we wanted regular shorts, Bermuda, or Capris, then took us immediately to where we needed to be.  Hooray!  There were no pluses in the shorts, but she had no problem finding the fuller cuts and really made my little one happy by find absolutely adorable Bermuda jean shorts.  When we looked at their shirts, again in what should have been the correct size, it was much, much closer to fitting her, but still a bit too tight.  However, their selection being what it is, we found the perfect compromise: a flowing tank top that hung from her shoulders.

Next year, though, we're not going to have a choice but to hit the Junior's Department again.  I'm not looking forward to it.

What I want to know is why isn't there anything in between little girl and sixteen?  I know I'm not the only one having this problem.  In fact, one of the mother's from my homeschooling group had the same problem with her daughter.  So why is it stores don't have something that bridges the gap between little bodies and maturing bodies?  And it's always been this way.  I had the same problem when I was a girl.  You would think some store somewhere would see the need and jump on it.  We're talking million dollar idea.  Something in between.  Something that can accommodate a tween without forcing them into clothes meant for high school teens.  I'm not even talking about the provocative lines and cuts (though I could certainly get into that).  I'm talking basic shape.  When I can take my daughter into the Boy's Section of T and find a shirt the exact same size of the girl's, and it fits, there's something wrong.

Maybe I'll start my own company once we have the Singer working.  Maybe I'll begin making clothes to fill in the gap that no one is paying attention to.  It might very well be the only way to clothe my daughter for the next few years.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Learning to Sew...On a Singer Machine

So I've been singing the post title to the tune of Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" all day today. Because we are actually trying to learn how to sew on a Singer. This is something we've talked about doing for a while now; if you have kids, you know that sometimes mending and tweaking clothes can't be avoided. Besides, dh (dear hubby) and I both grew up around women (yes, mostly women) who did a lot of sewing. I still have one relative who is sewing for a living, and she's pretty darn amazing. Delicate, hand crocheted snowflake ornaments? Yep, she can whip those out without thinking. Needles to say, we'd been considering finding a used sewing machine so that we could at least do and learn some basics. I'm not completely helpless; I know how to sew on a button, darn a sock, that sort of thing, but nothing more complicated than the small time.

As luck would have it, a few months ago a friend of the family had a garage sale and dh went over to help do the heavy lifting. Guess what he found? You got it...a Singer sewing machine! They sold it to him for a song (wow, that's a little pun), and he brought it home. He'd been warned that we'd need a new needle, but other than that, the last time it was used it had been fine. So, dh did what he does best, researched the heck out of the needle situation, and we purchased an appropriate one. We sat down in anticipation of using it, thinking of all the things we could do when we figured out the machine. DH plugged it in, spooled the thread, put a piece of cloth under the machine's foot, pressed the pedal...and went a few stitches before it hung up. After much trial and error, and much bunching of thread and gnashing of teeth, we struggled through to make some very crude bean bags for a kids' project. We haven't really managed to do much else with it.

Just a week ago we were talking to a woman in our homeschool group, one who knows way more about these things, and she said she'd had the same problem with her Singer machine. Turns out, it's a dust build up and apparently it's a pretty common issue. Sometimes it can cleaned out, sometimes not; if not, the machine is basically a paperweight. So guess what we're going to be doing in the next few days? We're going to be looking up instructions for how to take the machine apart to clean it, or if it's even possible. Because really, now that we have a sewing machine, we've got so many little ideas in our heads of things we can do - and things that need to be done - that going without one would be difficult. Especially for my poor pants which need another hem.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Way Too Philosiphical Post

So, I'm going to keep this post from being way too sad.  It's March, and in just a couple of days we'll all be sporting green, toasting with Guiness, and maybe even enjoying a parade.  St. Patrick's Day!  Don't forget to have a traditional Irish meal: shepherd's pie, or corn beef with cabbage, or a nice hardy stew.  Geez, I'm making myself hungry!  I actually remember my paternal grandmother making Shepherd's Pie with leftovers; it was so tasty I forgot it was really a cost saving casserole.  I might have to try to recreate it on the 17th.

When you think about it, the world has sort of gone back around in its circle.  We're scrimping and saving, like our grandparents did, mending and making do as they did in the late twenties and early thirties, stretching every penny to the point it bounces like rubber.  My paternal grandmother used to take sugar packets from restaurants, slip them in her purse, and take them home.  She never let food go to waste; it was kin to sacrilege.  My maternal grandmother sewed and knitted and mended everything, so that she could stretch her wardrobe a good two to three years.  Both had gardens and canned anything that could be eaten.  People are Googling Depression Era Recipes now and digging out the sewing machine to help deal.  Because I lived so long with all of my grandparents' ways (which also became my parents' ways), buckling down isn't so strange to me.  It's not so much the old/new way of living, as seeing it all swing back around.  It makes me wonder when the eighties will rear its head again.

So now I've fallen into philosophizing, and I have a feeling if I keep going on it won't end well.  I'll be all dust in the wind, every rose has its thorn, like sands through the hourglass....  This is why my Philosophy Professor always reminded me to keep my answers to four sentences or less.  Have a great rest of the week, enjoy St. Patrick's Day, and maybe go check out Depression Era Recipes on YouTube.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

My First Post

So...I don't blog.  Now, pick yourself up off the floor and please try not to laugh.  I don't know why I don't blog.  I've been told that I should.  After all, I write, and every writer is supposed to have a presence on the web, right?  I know this; it only makes sense.  And yet...I don't blog.  I've tried to.  I failed.  But, hey, if you fail then you pick yourself up and try it all again.  At least that's the idea.

Now, why did I decide to try this whole blogging thing just one more time?  Because a Terrible Mind made me do it.  No, seriously, Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds did something evil...and good.  He posted this picture for his Flash Fiction Challenge, and my brain immediately started formulating a very short story.  While it's not as good as some of the other entries (I loved reading them and enjoyed the different scenarios), it did help me break through a particularly nasty spell of writer's block.

And now, for better or worse, here is my entry (edited to make reading it on the web easier) - which happens to be my first blog post:


She hated life.  She couldn’t let go.  It was the paradox she couldn’t free herself from.  The street below bent and bowed with life, breathing people in and out of the buildings that lined the busy sidewalks.  Little creatures running from one place to another, never looking up, always looking down, ignoring the very things she desired.  Beauty had had a place here once.  Beauty would have a place here again.  Just not in this endless moment…her moment.
 She could feel the gray clouds skitter overhead, tumbling and rolling over each other until the sky was full of their thick, wrestling wisps.  It would rain soon.  The little dots below would become a sea of bumbling black covers, sometimes punctuated by a bright, rebellious hue.  She had been that hue.  She had burned hot and sure.  She had feared the fading.  The fading which never came.

The room grew restless, the bricks along the corner of the building expanding in anticipation of rain.  Her corner room.  Her corner window.  Sometimes they came.  No one stayed.  The paradox shifted, righted, snapped into place.  Hate them, love them, let go of them.  She might remain quiet, but still her visitors could feel the war of animosity and despair.  Felt, but never seen.  Experienced, but never documented.

 If they could only see.  If she could make them.  Her mistake was a purgatory of gray, a waiting maelstrom of silence.  She could shout with one sad glance what she knew as truth.  But they never looked up.  And so she stayed in her room.  She looked down at the belching and staggering of life.  She turned from the ignorance that weighed on their shoulders, turned back to the agony of wanting and not having, never seeing eternal youth, only knowing her mournful heart.  And waited for someone to look up.