Casualties at Home

Denise tightened her grip on the steering wheel as she turned left at the green light. There was absolutely no way that Charles was going to beat her to the restaurant today. She started getting ready for their date a full hour earlier than usual. Even with the extra special care she took with her hair and makeup, she still left nearly forty-five minutes earlier than she normally would have.

The problem was that there was no problem. Denise just ran into new and different problems every time she left the house.

Take last week, for example. How was she to know that she was going to turn down a one way street blocked by a broken down garbage truck? It had just happened, and it wasn’t even on the traffic report later, so she honestly didn’t have any way of knowing.

And last month, when those protesters decided to let the monkeys loose from the city zoo. Nobody could have predicted such a thing, nor that two orangutans would set up shop in the middle of the very street that Denise chose as her best route to the library.

The next light was red, and Denise toed the brake, adjusting the collar of her denim jacket as she slowed. She hummed along with the melody whispering from the car stereo, then reached for the volume knob to turn it up enough to hear the words.

peaceBut when she lifted her eyes back to the road ahead of her, a tank. A tank? Cruising down the street in the middle of a major metropolitan area? Denise threw the car in park and threw her hands in the air in defeat.

“I’m just going to stay home and write my poetry from now on. Charles is just going to have to survive on takeout and home cooking, that’s all there is to it.” She dug through her purse until she found her cell phone, and called Charles to repeat herself.

“A freaking tank, Charles. It’s unbelievable, I know. I’m not sure if I should even try to turn around and drive back home. I might get trampled by a brontosaur stampede,” she was beginning to sob. “What did I do to deserve this, Charles? For crying out loud, I can’t even go to the grocery store without a freak hailstorm destroying my windshield.”

That one happened three weeks ago.

Charles did his best to calm down his beloved, but she grew more and more hysterical with each passing second. Finally, he interrupted her long enough to state firmly that he was going to come and pick her up, and he would park her car somewhere safe nearby and come back to get it the next day.

Denise agreed, snot dribbling down her upper lip. She got off the phone and leaned over to open her glove compartment for some napkins to clean up. She straightened in her seat and blew her nose, and sat calmly and quietly, waiting for Charles to show up.

It only took him about ten minutes. With a shock of guilt, Denise realized how close she was to his work, and that he must have skipped out early to come and help her in her hysterical state. She got out of her car and threw her arms around his neck.

“You’re my hero, Charles,” she exclaimed, kissing him. “I don’t know what I would do without you. I’m so sorry for the drama and making you leave work and…”

He interrupted her for the second time, before she broke down again. “It’s perfectly okay, sweetheart. Come on.” He escorted her around to the passenger side of his car. “Now, just wait here a moment, and I’ll go park you right over there,” he said, pointing at the Chipotle across the street. “I won’t be but a few minutes, okay?”

Denise nodded, and as she waited for Charles to return, suddenly wondered where everyone else was. A tank was blocking the road before her, yes, but surely at least one other driver should have come up behind her at this light while she waited for Charles.

The thought occupied her mind so thoroughly that she didn’t even notice Charles come back to his car, and she nearly jumped out of her skin when he opened the door and got into the driver’s seat. She swiped at her nose once more with the napkin and cocked her head at him.

“Where is everyone else today?” The genuine confusion in her tone took Charles by surprise.

“They’re all gone, Denise,” he answered, now feeling as puzzled as she looked. “Don’t you remember? The city closed yesterday. They’re evacuating all of us in two days.” His grew more concerned by the second as he realized that none of this was ringing a bell with her. “Denise, are you even packed yet?”

“But where are we going? And why?” The tears were back in her eyes, the napkin forgotten in the loose fist that lay in her lap.

“Wherever there is room for us, my love. Because of the war.” Charles reached out a hand to comfort her, but Denise flinched away.

“None of this is making any sense, Charles. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just let me out! You’re lying!” The napkin tumbled from her hand as she scrabbled at the door handle, struggling to work it without unlocking it first.

Charles returned his eyes to the horizon. The last time Denise was like this, it took her a full six weeks to come back to him. He pressed his lips together and continued to her house, where he tucked her into bed and packed a bag of essentials for her before falling asleep on the couch.

***

LRose asked for a prompt; I gave her one, but I fell in love with it myself.


A Hundred Visions and Revisions

“Where we are going is here.”

The statement came out of his mouth so matter-of-factly that Cheryl didn’t even consider the that he’d just thrown a dart at a map of the country. Stephen followed it up with another statement, this one even more unsettling.

“Pack your shit, it’s time to go.”

She blinked at him, temporarily frozen in her surprise. “Right now? Stephen, you can’t be serious. It’s the middle of the night!” The paralysis wore off, and she gestured at the open window next to him.

milky-way-071015.jpgHe turned to regard the twinkling stars and flowing galaxies high above the rooftops of the houses across the street. With a shrug of his shoulders, he turned back to look her in the eye again. “So what?”

She didn’t have an answer for that.

The face-off lasted less than a minute before Cheryl gave in and left the room to pack the few things that she wanted to keep with her on this adventure. Excitement began to blossom deep in her stomach as she zipped the bag closed and trotted back out to the living room. He was standing in the same spot, arms crossed over his barrel chest, staring out the window again.

The dart had fallen from the map and rested on the floor beneath it.

“Stephen,” she began, timidly. “Do you remember where you hit the map?”

He grunted, still standing at the window.

She tried again to capture his attention. “Do you want to throw it again?”

His head straightened abruptly, as though he’d awoken from a deep sleep. “What was that?” he asked, turning to face her. His eyes dropped to the bag in her hand. “Where do you think you’re going?” His eyebrows drew together and that gruffness that she hadn’t heard in so long, that gruffness that she feared so much, crept into his voice.

The bag slipped from her loosened grip to land softly on the carpeted floor. “I-I…you just…nowhere, Stephen.”

His glare softened. “Well, don’t just stand there, Cher, bring it to the truck. We’ve got to get–” he turned to look at the map and noticed that the dart was missing. “Shit. These walls must be too solid. You wanna throw it this time, girl?”

She shook her head, but stepped forward to retrieve the errant dart and pass it to him. He took it from her hand with a caress, and winked at her as he did so. “Let’s go somewhere sunny,” he whispered in her ear. “You look beautiful on the beach.”

He took her in his arm, and as their lips met, he threw the dart again, and it thunked solidly through the glossy paper map and into the plaster behind.

“Southern California, here we come,” he murmured, brushing her hair out of the way with his nose and kissing her beneath her ear, in the spot that made her breathing heavy and her muscles weak. He broke away and slapped her ass. “Pack it up!”

Cheryl ran back to the bag she’d just dropped, and when she straightened, the smile was back on her face.

 


Walking in Circles

I knew something was wrong when I stepped out of the lab and Gerald wasn’t there to greet me. Gerald never took a sick day. Not that I can remember, and I’ve been here with him for sixteen years. That should have been my first clue, and the only one I needed.

The green exit sign flickered at me, beckoning, but I just stood there, confused. You know how sometimes you have to stop and think a minute as soon as you close your front door behind you? Did I leave the stove on, did I pick up my keys before I locked the door? That’s how I felt without Gerald there wishing me a good night. Lost.

The company hadn’t even posted a replacement guard at the door, which was even stranger. You have to pass some pretty serious security checks to mop the floors in this building, let alone wander around the biology lab unsupervised.

I shook off an odd chill and dropped my lab coat in the bin outside the locker room. No one else came in while I showered and dressed, even though I took my sweet time. Also strange. Nobody worked an officially regular schedule, sure, but we tended to cluster our comings and goings around the same hour or so. Except Larry, but Larry has that circadian rhythm disorder.

The echo of the padlock closing seemed louder than I’d ever heard it before. I turned around and noticed that the towel shelves were nearly empty. Laundry wasn’t the best department, but they were usually on top of their game enough that the towels deadened the sound a bit in this metal box of a room. I slipped my keys from my pocket and held them in my hand for the trip to my car.

Accepting that something was wrong would be the logical next step, but logic had left the building. I was freaking out, no beating around the bush. I’m just glad I wore tennis shoes to work; the tapping of my hard soled dress shoes in this empty shell of a building would probably have been too much for my lizard brain to take. The random squeaks were bad enough as it was.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not. Like I said, I’ve walked these halls for sixteen years. I’m not going to dissolve into a puddle of nonsensical lunacy now. I’ll just see whose office this is. 106. That’s Dr. Matthews. Two rights and a left and I’ll be at security, ready to wave goodnight to whomever’s manning the desk at this hour.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not. Like I said, I’ve walked these halls for sixteen years. I’m not going to dissolve into a puddle of nonsensical lunacy now. I’ll just see whose office this is. 106. That’s Dr. Matthews. Two rights and a left and I’ll be at security, ready to wave goodnight to whomever’s manning the desk at this hour.

Hang on. I should have been at the doors by now. But I’m not.

Hang on.

Hang on.

I wonder where Gerald’s run off to.

DSC_7348


The Letters

The Offer and The Mission

Dogsbody snapped awake, breathing heavily, a scream trapped in his throat. He blinked madly, trying to focus his eyes and struggling to remember just what it was that had frightened him so badly.

Two things: a faint smell of licorice, and the soft murmur of Mr Walker’s voice. That was all Dogsbody could recall.

He shivered under his cover of discarded newspapers and rotting sandwich buns, and his hand crept to his coat pocket to make sure that the letters entrusted to him by Mr Walker still rested, safe and dry, in his possession. The plastic wrapping the bundle crinkled, and Dogsbody felt a modicum of relief. But what if someone had taken the letters and left the plastic? He threw his coverlet of garbage to the side and struggled a moment with his coat, trying to pull the packet from his pocket. A quick count revealed that the letters were all still there.

Dogsbody leaned back into the only comfort he could remember, his pulse finally slowing to normal. That dream, though; that dream. He clenched his jaw, fighting against the blankness in his memory. Fighting to no avail.

The clock at the Methodist church chimed six. Dogsbody knew that it was nearly time for him to be on his way to complete his assignment. For far from the first time and far from the last, he wished that he had never woken up.

But he was awake, and he had a job to do. The reward would be well worthwhile. Mr Walker had promised that much. Dogsbody rose and patted his pockets down once more to make sure he had the valuable letters and abandoned his sewage-scented nest. DSC03569

The nearest post office lay fourteen blocks north of Dogsbody’s home; he chose to head there first. Sixteen letters, twelve post offices. He trudged down the echoing streets, nearly empty this early in the morning, but they would be filled soon enough with the hustle and bustle of the city that left Dogsbody to his own devices.

He spent a few moments musing how he had come to this, hating the city and its inhabitants, but not hating any of the specific people who were surely more to blame than any innocent resident who’d never even heard of Dogsbody.

The fourth post office had a line out the door. Dogsbody dropped the letter in the out-of-town box as Mr Walker instructed and moved on. Around eighteen more miles to go, but the next three stops were very close to each other, and in between them were places Dogsbody knew he could find a bite to eat.

Ten stops in. Nearly there. and the dream slapped Dogsbody in the face out of nowhere. As quickly, it was gone, leaving him gasping for breath just as he did a few hours earlier. Licorice. And Mr Walker. Dogsbody shook his head, trying to loosen the memories lodged somewhere in his cerebral cortex. He wondered how many other people could shake so easily while still covering their faces with their coat collar. Not many, he supposed.

But it isn’t a necessary skill for many. Not for many at all.

The final mailbox at the final post office; the final two letters. Dogsbody double checked and dropped them in. He pulled his collar a little higher and readied himself for the long walk back home, where he would wait for Mr Walker to contact him. As he neared his alley, the first flakes of snow began to fall.

 


What Is It Wednesday

So many Wordless Wednesdays in my inbox today! I just can’t do those. I can, however, give you a nice botanical what is it.

We have a flower. This little guy is blooming in a large pot beside our front porch steps. Most of the dirt is local, but the pot did used to be home to a baby redwood from Washington state. I went through 46 pages of google images without finding anything that looked like this one. Those are his lil spiky leaves, and there are a few more buds growing.

20120509-182600.jpg Any ideas? I did email a picture to my stepdad, the family taxonomist. No word back from him yet, though.


Questions

I hate them.

All the nagging little ‘are you sures’ and ‘whys’ and ‘what ifs.’ The tiny doubts that always manage to find a way in. The second-guessing that only serves to make me crazier. The fears.

And the shame.

When something bad happens, we all ask ourselves the same question at one point.

What did I do to deserve this?

If you ask that question enough, you’re bound to come up with answers. Maybe it’s something silly or trivial, maybe it’s something serious. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. The more you ask, the more answers you can think up.

I thought I’d finished asking that. I thought I’d come to terms with what has gone wrong in my life. I thought I understood that it’s not my fault.

I didn’t force someone to do something if I didn’t know about it. I didn’t do something stupid to cause my ovaries to be cyst factories. I can tell myself that, but it doesn’t mean I always believe it.

So many questions. What if I’m not strong enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough? What if I’m not good enough? And then the question I despise myself for asking: what if I’m not the one who isn’t good enough?

But what makes that question so much worse than the others? Why can I put myself down all I want, but if I dare to question someone else’s suitability, I’m a terrible person?

Because I’m stuck with me, no matter what. I’ll always be here. I can’t escape myself. Because if it isn’t me, that means I made crappy decisions.

If I’d just stop beating around the bush and spit it out, I’d admit that there’s really only one question, did I make the right choice? And then I’d have to admit that there comes a point when it doesn’t matter anymore.

I have to stand behind my decisions, because a valid reason is a valid reason. Because the same things make sense to me now that made sense to me five years ago, or ten years ago. More things make sense, not fewer.

Maybe I can start asking myself not if I made the right choice, but if I made the right choice at the time. For the most part, I think I did.

I hope I can learn to have more faith in myself.