Tomorrow: watercolor painting in the park, Hatch Show Print, and downtown.
Btdubs, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were awesome last night.
Steven sat on the wooden bench at the waterside, the wooden slats digging into the backs of his knees in that comfortingly familiar way that they had since he was small enough to swing his feet. The absurdity of the situation struck him as he shook the small paper bag of birdseed, the sound centering him nearly as much as the physical heft of the bag.
The pigeons gathered around his feet, pecking at the handful of seeds he’d already scattered on the concrete in front of himself. The soft sounds of their feet and beaks was music to his ears. On the other side of the park, a woman laughed, and reality came crashing back around Steven’s ankles. Sierra was gone.
She was gone, and she wasn’t coming back.
He closed his eyes, trying somehow to block out the last three and a half years that they’d lived together in their apartment. His apartment. He hadn’t decided yet if he was going to move or not. Moving was far too much of a commitment for him to make right now. Even thinking about moving. He turned his minds to lighter things, and shook the paper bag again, drawing two more pigeons to his retinue.
She was gone.
He didn’t even see it coming, that was the kicker. And she didn’t have the guts to come right out and tell him, either. They both got up that morning, just like every day. Got dressed, drank coffee, laughed about not having breakfast. Just like every other day. She left for work, he left for work, and when he came home for lunch, he read the note on the sofa table by the front door.
She was gone.
She didn’t answer her phone when he called seventeen times. She didn’t respond to his texts. It wasn’t any kind of sick joke, as he half hoped. It was real and final and happening right now.
She was gone.
The bag slipped from Steven’s fingers and burst on the ground before him, and the pigeons rushed in to fight each other for the treasure trove of seeds.
Steven dropped his head to his hands and his shoulders heaved up and down as his body was wracked by great, choking sobs.
On the other side of the park, the woman laughed again, unaware of the tragedy in Steven’s life, unaware of Steven’s life.
Brooke jingled her ladybug key ring before she set it in the bowl on the table by the door. Caleb was nowhere in sight; she decided that he was napping. He was doing that more and more these days, she thought. Instead of spending time worrying about his health, she headed to the refrigerator for a snack.
She grabbed a handful of pecans from the bowl on the counter and sat on the couch to put her feet up. A noise behind her told her that Caleb was awake, which was a relief. She hated it when he slept all day and stayed up all night, leaving her alone in their bed. Maybe they could even go out to dinner as they’d planned and failed earlier in the week.
The bedroom door slammed against the wall, and Brooke jumped. Caleb struggled out with a box overflowing with junk of all shapes and sizes.
“What on earth have you been doing?” Brooke asked.
“I went up to the attic earlier and pulled some stuff down. I’ve been going through it. How long have you been home?” he countered.
“Like five minutes. Why would you go up to the attic? You’ve never cared about that old stuff before. And it’s not like it’s even yours anyway, so why would you go through it? It all belonged to my family. I probably couldn’t even identify half of it. Three quarters of it.”
Caleb dropped the box on the floor in front of him. “I don’t know, Brooke.” His voice softened. “I just felt like something was calling me, so I went to have a look. And we’ve never really looked at everything up there, so I just got distracted. I’m sorry.” He picked the box back up and brought it around the couch to set it down on the coffee table in front of Brooke. “Some of this stuff is practically ancient. How about I order us a pizza and we can just watch a movie or something while you look at some of it?”
Her hands began to reach out towards the box in spite of her anger, and Brooke quickly nodded her agreement to Caleb’s suggestion. “Make sure it’s light sauce, please,” she turned to smile at him, and all was forgiven again.
Caleb wandered into the next room to place the order, but his phone was dropped forgotten on the table, pizza app open, when he heard Brooke’s soft gasp from the couch. He returned the the living room to find her holding a small brass candlestick aloft, staring at it with her mouth open.
He sat down next to her. “Are you okay?”
“My grandmother…” she trailed off.
“Was this your grandmother’s candlestick?” Caleb prompted her.
“It was,” Brooke confirmed. “This was the one we used to take on our picnics. We always used to go on picnics in the park on Sunday evenings. We’d pack up all of the leftovers from the big Sunday dinner after church, and when everyone had gone home for the day, and it was just Grandma and Mom and me, she would ask if we were ready to go yet. She would pick up this candlestick and her best tablecloth, and we’d walk to the park across the street and that’s where we’d eat the last meal of the day. By candlelight, in the twilight. Every Sunday until she died. And I’ve never seen this candlestick since. Or her best tablecloth. I always wondered what happened to them–” her voice began to break, and Caleb put an arm around her.
“I know you miss her. I’m sorry.” He pulled her into his embrace, and she sobbed freely.
I broke my left arm when I was eleven. On my mother’s thirty-sixth birthday.
Wow, that just drives the nail right on in the coffin, doesn’t it? I was eleven when my mother was two years younger than I am now. And she already had two children and two husbands–not that I’m trading my husband in, mind you.
But yes, that’s what happened. We went to the park, and I fell off some playground equipment and snapped that sumbitch pretty dang good if I do say so myself. I freaked right the fuck out.
My mom claims she heard it; I’m glad I did not. She and my stepfather gathered my sister from wherever she was playing and loaded everything up in the car. My mother rode in the back seat with em, supporting my arm since we had nothing to splint it with. Not a fun ride, take my word for it.
That ER has changed so much in the past twenty-seven years. I’m not sure that there’s anything left of the place I went that night, where I kept whimpering as a team of doctors struggled to set my arm, giving me more and more sedation until finally I was unconscious and they could push and pull as needed. I woke up a bit when they were X-raying my arm inside the first cast and finding out that I’d moved enough that it was no longer set properly, and they had to cut that cast off and start over. I don’t remember the ride home with my new cast.
But I do remember the next three days of being out of school, and being allowed to watch TV which was an absolute no any other time I stayed home from school. I don’t remember it hurting very much after the first day, but who was I to insist on going to school when I could stay home?
I welcomed my celebrity status when I returned to school, which was completely out of character for me. I talked to kids I’d never spoken to before and let them sign my cast. It was glorious. My sister had broken her arm the year before, as had my mother, fortunately at separate times, but living it firsthand was a new experience for me. I’d had ‘surgery’ before, but it was just tubes in my ears and my adenoids out, no stitches or anything else that kids would be fascinated by.
I’m left-handed, and I broke my left arm. I loved not having to write my spelling words three times each. That was probably the best part of the whole broken arm thing. No damn spelling words. I’d been reading years longer than I’d been in school, I knew how to spell. Except receive, of course.
I clearly remember the day I got my above-elbow cast off for a short-arm. My appointment was early enough that I was dropped off at school after, and my class was in the library playing Oregon Trail. I walked over to the library and waved at everyone, using my newly-freed elbow. that was quite the ballsy move for eleven-year-old me. Quite.
But it wasn’t nearly as exciting for the rest of the sixth grade as it was for me. I didn’t get half the signatures on my new cast that I did on the old one, even accounting for the lack of real estate to collect them.
And two weeks later, that was it. The cast came off, and I had the stinkiest, skinniest, flakiest, palest arm I’d ever seen. The wait began to see if it would grow, since the doctors were concerned that I’d damaged the growth plates, but no one outside the hospital cared about that. I was no longer the sideshow freak at school, and I faded quickly back into obscurity.
P.S. It grew just fine to match the other.
Phil peeked around the corner to see if it was still there.
It was still there.
A figure lying in wait for him if he dared go around the corner alone. He was only six, and he knew better than to cross the street without holding someone’s hand, but he’d gone and done it anyway. Spitefully. His mother told him and told him all the horror stories about children being stolen away when they didn’t listen to their mothers, but had he listened? Of course not.
But all he wanted was to ride the swing at the park. His mother was busy cooking dinner and refused to take him, so he’d opened up the door quietly, so quietly, and slipped out by himself. He played for so long that all the other children were long gone with their families, probably eating dinner and getting ready for bed by now.
Phil imagined that his mother called for him until she was hoarse, and that now she was crying, rocking in her chair. His father was away on a business trip, and Phil wondered if he would come home early if Phil was missing. Probably not.
It was so late, so far past dinnertime that Phil grabbed at his stomach as it growled in hunger. He wanted to go home so badly. This was a poor decision, and he knew it. Still, swings. Phil loved the swings.
The problem now was that he couldn’t go home, no matter how much he wanted to. The monster was between him and home. Between him and dinner and his soft, warm bed. Between him and his mother.
He rummaged around under the picnic tables to see if anyone had dropped any snacks and came up empty-handed.
One last try. He leaned around the side of the building with the bathrooms, but it was still there. Phil sniffled a bit as the tears began to set in. He was so sorry for not listening to his mother. So sorry. He took a deep breath and brushed the first tear away with a small grubby fist. He had to make a break for it. It was going to be rough, but if he did it, he’d be home in no time.
Phil took off running past the monster, but he only made it four steps before he tripped on his shoelace and fell face-first onto the hard concrete walkway. One day he would learn to tie his shoes. He cried out in pain, reaching up to feel how much blood was pouring from his face. In truth, it was more than enough blood to warrant panic, but Phil actually felt much better when he looked to his left at the monster.
He almost laughed aloud at himself. It wasn’t a monster at all; it merely looked like one in the shadows and fading light. It was an overflowing trash can. And that claw that Phil feared was outstretched waiting to tear out his throat? It was nothing more than a rusty old nail.
Phil stood up without even brushing off his wood-chip-coated knees. He laughed at his younger self, because now he didn’t believe in monsters anyway. He ran home, where his mother was so happy to see him that she cleaned him up without a word and sat him at the table for a lovely dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, his favorite.
I have no idea what my time was; I had a household emergency in the middle. It’s all good now, though.
Hudson looked over his shoulder once more, searching the horizon with sad eyes filled with longing; she was late for their lunch date. He checked his watch–too late. She had two minutes to show, or they wouldn’t have time for more than a quick smooch before he had to get back to work. Might as well prepare for the worst, he thought, and began to gather the picnic lunch that had been warming on a moss covered stone nearby.
Two minutes was up, and she was still nowhere in sight. Hudson sighed, and began folding the blanket they’d lunched on more times than he remembered. The breeze plastered an abandoned candy wrapper against the side of his loafer, and he bent to pick it up.
When he straightened, she was there, standing in front of him, wild of eye and mussed of hair.
“Shirley, are you okay? What happened?”He reached out to steady her, but she flinched away.
“It was them, it was them. They’re coming back for me. Too soon, so soon,” she was mumbling, not making any sense.
Hudson reached for her again, and this time he slipped an arm around her, past her wildly streaming hair. He pulled her against him, gently but firmly, smoothing her hair with his other hand and whispering soft soothing sounds into her ear.
He looked down to see that she was only wearing one shoe, the other left who-knows-where. “Shirley, let me see your foot. It’s bleeding.”
She didn’t hear him, didn’t understand the words he was saying. She still stared off into the distance. He slung her over a shoulder and stopped the flow of blood with the blanket. A cursory glance at the picnic basket was enough or him to let it go, and he carried her toward the street, fully intending to hail the next cab he saw, and the hell with work.
Shirley calmed even more when he picked her up, her murmurs becoming whispers of their former selves, until a stranger caught her eye. She panicked, struggling her way right out of Hudson’s arms and onto the grass.
He stopped in his tracks, unsure of how to handle this. People were starting to stare. The last thing he needed was some do-gooder calling 911 and claiming that he was trying to kidnap his own girlfriend. She’d jerked her foot out of his grasp, so now he was left holding a bloody blanket while a girl scrambled away from him.
Bit of a challenge to explain that to a police officer.
He flashed his pearly whites to the gathering crowd and made up something about needing her medication, all the while kicking himself for it. He scooped Shirley back up and she settled once more into his chest.
She was speaking more clearly, but still, he struggled to make out the words.
“This isn’t just a story, Hudson, not a story, not a story. It’s all real.”
TBP OLWG #6
18 minutes writing and editing.
I’m not emotionally attached to this bit at all. In fact, I don’t think I would have minded too terribly much if I accidentally deleted the whole thing. But I can’t bring myself to do it on purpose.
I pick 29.