The Endless Kitchen (Emma’s Story)

“In the end, won’t death be an endless kitchen?”

-From Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions

It made sense, really. As much sense as waking up after a fatal car crash could be said to make anyway. Maybe it was the shock but as she looked at the rows of clean, white cabinets and shiny quartz counters she kept asking herself, “Where else would I be?”

The kitchen was the kind of space she would have died to have when she was alive, an irony that was not lost on her. This kitchen was miles bigger than the kitchen in her tiny two bedroom apartment. It was the kind of big her sister would have called cavernous.

She hoped her sister was okay but then again “mourning” and “okay” never really went together, did they?

The first refrigerator was as tall as she was and nearly as wide. She could have paused to consider the strangeness, the fact that there wasn’t just one refrigerator but rows upon rows of them. But considering that would force her to consider other things she wasn’t ready to confront. Like her mortality. Was mortality still a concern after you had died? Was it something that transcended death?

She shook her head as if the movement could push the questions forcibly away. She pulled out a carton of eggs and butter and walked them to the stovetop that was so new it took her three tries to turn it on. The dial clicked and the gas made a snick sound as the flame finally caught. She stared at the lit burner for a moment. Her mind turned to open flames, the bangs of explosions, and the way flesh burned at a certain temperature would smell vaguely of pears.

She pushed those thoughts away too and found a skillet in a cabinet under the sink. There wasn’t anything else inside. When she opened it again a moment later to find a spatula, she found that too. She must not have seen it before.

The butter she’d left to melt had burnt to black by the time she returned from the pantry with flour and sugar. She turned it out into the sink and rinsed the pan until it stopped sizzling.

She added more butter and this time she stayed to watch it melt, only turning away for a moment to get milk from the first refrigerator. She didn’t remember seeing it when she had taken out the eggs and the butter. She mixed the flour and the sugar with an egg and some of the melted butter. She started a second pan heating while she mixed.

Her first pancakes started to sizzle and bubble as she opened a cabinet and found two white plates and nothing else. She set them both on the counter. She couldn’t eat two servings of pancakes. She wasn’t sure if she ate at all now that she was dead. But her recipe was for two servings so she started to fill both plates as the pancakes cooked.

She was just starting to feel foolish–cooking for some stranger who would never come–when down the long corridor she heard a door creak open. She wondered if she should leave her stovetop (it already felt more like it belonged to her than anything she’d had in life) and investigate when she heard the door close. In the vast, silent space the slam of the door sounded so much like an explosion. Like a crash.

Footsteps sounded down the long, white corridor shoes tapping against the slick white tiles as she poured the last of the batter into the pans.

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The Penny (Nicole’s Story)

I don’t consider myself to be a lucky person. In fact, I am quite certain that if you were to look up the definition of unlucky you would probably find a picture of me, Lucy Garner, staring back at you. It wasn’t always like this.

Once upon a time, I was one lucky kid. But that all changed one day some seven years ago. Picture it: It was June 13, 2008. Friday the thirteenth. I was nine years old and spending my first day of summer holiday snooping. I was on a mission to find my birthday gifts. I had searched mom and dad’s usual hiding places: under their bed, in the crawl space, and the small patch of space in the far right corner of our already packed basement. I was desperate though, I even checked the garden shed.

Bored and frustrated with coming up empty handed I decided to check the one place I hadn’t looked: mom and dad’s closet. It seemed like an obvious place, but that’s exactly why I hadn’t checked. It was too obvious and mom and dad both knew this. I stood there and scanned the farthest corners. I found a few boxes of old love letters. There were boxes of designer shoes lined up across the bottom length of the closet. I shifted articles of clothing from left to right, checking in between every nook and every cranny. Just when I was about to abandon my mission, wave my white flag of surrender, I spotted an unfamiliar box.

That year I asked for a Nintendo Wii, not because I’m some gamer or some wanna be gamer. I was a very realistic nine-year-old, I sucked at all video games. But I wanted one all the same. It was what all the cool kids had and I wanted to be cool more than anything else I wanted. More than I wanted that Nintendo Wii. The box was Wii sized. My heart leaped with joy. So much so that I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I stretched and managed to grab a hold of the box. As the box slipped off the shelf and towards my outstretched arms I quickly realized two very important things: first, the box was much heavier than I expected it to be, and second I was a complete klutz.

Instead, it crashed with a loud thump and an even louder crack onto the linoleum-lined floor. Something had broken. I just hope it was something forgettable and not some family heirloom. I opened that box hesitantly, afraid of what I would find. There was a lot of junk in there, but among that junk, there was a mirror that had cracked and broke into what seemed like a million pieces. I stood there with three broken shards of glass in my hand. Realizing that just like that, I was struck with seven years of cold, hard bad luck.

At first, I did not think anything of the broken mirror, but as the air shifted around me, something felt different. Something wrong even. The very next day bad luck settled upon me as the dust settled upon a useless figurine. I needed to talk to Calvin, my one and only friend. I had to talk to someone, I had to find a logical reason why I was suddenly feeling like there was an ominous black cloud hanging over my head. But as luck would have it, bad luck reared its ugly head.

I never made it to Calvin’s house because I tripped on an uneven pavement stone. In the act of trying to break my fall, I ended up breaking my wrist. Breaking my wrist caused me to miss out on some desperately needed summer fun. A few days later I finally had made it to Calvin’s. And once again there was bad luck. Before I was even invited into the house Calvin told me he didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. He said I had a bad case of the cooties. I heard the snickers of a group of boys coming from behind the door. I stood there, shocked and on the verge of tears.

Within a week I had broken my wrist and lost my one and only best friend. The following week didn’t get any better. My pet lizard died. I lost my cell phone. And worst of all, mom informed me that I’d be spending a week with Aunt Kim and my cousin’s, affectionately known as the devils’ spawn.

The summer of 2008 was a crummy one. I had experienced more bad luck than I would have thought was humanly possible. I just had to wait it out, that’s all. I started high school with high hopes. But as the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, my bad luck shrouded me like a cloak. That year I flunked physical education and was forced to take it again in summer school. Calvin still wasn’t talking to me. In fact, the only time he really paid any attention to me was when he played some mean-spirited prank on me. And when I broke my own personal rule of not wearing a skirt to school I ended up flashing the entire class my undies. I more than flashed, I advertised.

And here we are. The first day of summer holiday, seven years later. I waited bad luck out and I had survived. Things are going to change. Starting today. The bad luck spell was broken, well at least I’m hoping it is.

As I walk to Mo’s Music on Main, minding my own business, I stop. There in front of me was a small, wild-eyed squirrel and it was barking. It’s never a good sign when a squirrel barks. He positions  himself to attack. And just when I thought he was going to go about his squirrel business, he launches himself onto my already beat up sneaker. He tears at the laces with all of his light, but I’m bigger and stronger. With a powerful shake of my leg he flies backward into a shrub that lines the walkway.

Obviously  this has shaken me, and I think that maybe it’s best to skip this outing all together.  I’m only going to Mo’s, and it’s not like the store will not be there tomorrow.  Maybe seeing if my order arrived isn’t as important as not pushing my luck. I sit on a bench across from Mo’s. Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I go to Mo’s, shouldn’t I go to Mo’s? Should I go home? Should I face my bad luck head on and continue on across the street?

I know I look stupid, but I can’t help myself. The past seven years haven’t exactly been a cakewalk. With my head down, I sigh heavily, a bad habit inherited from my father. It’s then that I spot the penny. But this penny isn’t your average penny, it’s shiny. So much so that it looks as if it could have come directly from the money press. Besides that, it’s heads side up.

This has been the sign I’ve been waiting for. A sign to tell me that once and for all luck will be on my side for once. I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. It’s warm as if it’s been laying in the sun for some time. More than that though, it seems important somehow. I pocket the penny and head across the street to Mo’s.

Mo’s is probably the only store in town that I shop in. It’s a record store and it has a really great collection. Mo’s carries a large collection of both CDs and Vinyl, two formats that some would argue are out of date. That is unless you are either a die-hard fan or a hipster. There’s also has a large collection of audio cassettes, you know for the collector types. And if it isn’t in the store, whatever you want can easily be ordered. Sure shipping can cost an arm and a leg, but sometimes it’s worth it. At least for me, it is.

I walk through the doors, sending the tinkling chimes into a frenzy as I push open the glass door that is so laden with band stickers you could hardly tell that the door is in fact glass. Mo, the owner and who the store is named after looks up from his magazine. “Lucy Lu!” he exclaims. “Mo!” I shout back with false excitement.

“What’s up?” he asks as if he doesn’t know the reason why I am here. It’s the same reason why I’ve been coming in every other day: to see if my imported Sexy Mavis record came in.

“Nothing much but the sky,” I say lamely.

“Good one. You here checking on Mavis?”

“You know it!”

“Sorry Lucy Lu, I don’t think it’s in yet,” he says with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Can you check?” Even though he checked two days ago, he doesn’t argue. He’s a good guy, even though most everyone thinks he’s some sort of weirdo. He saunters off to the back room. I wait, fidgeting. I want to look around but can’t. I can’t let myself spend another dollar in this store. I’m almost broke, and the funds I do have to go towards public transportation to get me back and forth to work.

I wait, and wait, and wait until I cannot stand it any longer. I start to roam the aisles looking at what’s new. I sing along to the song that’s playing throughout the empty space. And then stop when the bells above the door tinkle loudly. It’s a rare sight to see more than three customers in a time. I often wonder how Mo can keep this place open, but don’t question in fear that if questioned, it will fall apart and my beloved indie record store will cease to exist.

I glance towards the door too curious to stop myself. It’s Ethan Finch. I stare awkwardly. Stare to the point where it’s blindingly obvious.

“Hey,” he says with a small wave. I look around. Is he really waving at me? No way, guys like Ethan Finch don’t casually wave to a girl like me. They don’t even notice me. “You’re Lucy, right? I think we had Chem lab together last year.”

“Yeah, I’m Lucy.” I can barely manage to speak. All the words have left my head. What. Is. Wrong. With. Me?

“Do you come here a lot? I thought I was the only one who ever shops here.”

“I’m here at least twice a month. You?”

“About once a month.”

We stand there staring nervously at each other. “What do you listen to?”

“Listen to?” I ask sounding confused.

“What kind of music do you listen to?”

“All different stuff. You?”

“It changes. Right now, I’m into experimental prog-rock,” he says excitedly.

“Like Sexy Mavis?”

“No way! You know who they are?”

“Of course! Have you listened to their basement sessions yet?”

“Not yet,” he answers.

“Dude! What the hell is wrong with you? Are you waiting for some kind of invitation?!” I say a bit meaner than I intend to say this.

“I missed it when they were live on their website. I had debate team practice that night. You have no idea how angry I was about missing it?”

“There are other ways to listen to it, you know?”

“Yeah, but the sound quality is pure crap.” I nod knowing exactly what he is saying is the truth. “Wait … did you say you’re on the debate team?” I ask with a condescending snort.

“Are you laughing at me?” “No! I’m…I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh or to offend you. I just didn’t expect you to be on the debate team.”

“Well, what can I say? I’m full of surprises.” Is he flirting? Is he flirting, with me? My face instantly flushes.

“I guess you are,” is all I manage to say. Geez, where is Mo? Did he fly to Australia to get my album? I don’t know what to say to Ethan. I can tell that he doesn’t know what to say either. When I think the awkwardness will kill me, I hear the door at the back swing open. “Lucy Lu! Looki-y what Mo’s got for you!” He said as he held up the Sexy Mavis album I special ordered.  He hands it to me. It’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I turn the album over in my hands, looking at every inch of it.

“Mo, you are the best! Seriously! I love you, man!” I say enthusiastically!

“Ah! Look who it is! Sir Ethan, I didn’t even see you standing there. How’s it hanging man?” Mo says.

“Sir Ethan?” I interjecting questioning this odd nickname.

“Don’t ask, please.” His eyes are pleading with mine. It’s too soon in our relationship to know all of his deep dark secrets.

“Sir, you’re order is here too,” Mo says as he bends low behind the counter, digging around for what I assume is Ethan’s order. He hands Ethan a CD but I can’t make out exactly what or who it is.  There is absolutely no writing on the cover. In fact it’s just one solid orange colored cover. I’m intrigued. Not exactly knowing what to do or say since I got what I came here for and don’t really need anything else. I mutter a “thanks Mo!” and slip out of the door and onto the sidewalk.

I lean against the brick wall, thinking about mine and Ethan’s brief exchange. Even if I never talk to him again, I will always have this day.

“Hey,” Ethan says as he slides up next to me.

“Oh, hey,” I say, startled.

“I didn’t mean to sneak up on you?.”

“It’s fine, really.”

“Do you want to do something?”

“Uh, I guess.”

“Don’t sound so enthusiastic,” he said

“No! It’s not that. I’m just ….”

“Surprised? I told you I’m full of ‘em Lucy Lu!”

“Okay, let’s do something,” I say with a smile. He took my hand and we walked in the opposite directions of Mo’s. I wasn’t sure what he had in store, but he walked with purpose and direction as if he had pre-planned this.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see,” he slyly responds. We walk on further, and in silence. But not the awkward kind of silence. But rather the kind of silence where you’re comfortable and at ease, a silence of familiarity. We stop walking, just outside of the city limits. We’re facing what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. Unsure and a bit uneasy, I wonder if this is some sort of elaborate prank schemed up by Calvin. But it can’t be, Ethan and Calvin aren’t friends. Or at least I don’t think they are.

“Where are we?” I ask.

“You sound scared? Don’t you trust me?”

“I don’t know you that well.”

“That’s what today’s for. Come on,” he says tugging my hand.

“Seriously, where are we and what is this place?”

He sighs. “If there’s one thing to know about me is that I love surprises. I love to be the one who surprises people and I like to be surprised.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Let me finish. I like you Lucy. I have liked you for a long time. But I didn’t know how to tell you. So I figured that I’d show you instead. I didn’t just randomly bump into you at Mo’s today. When I came in to pick up the new Pinball Adam, that was all planned. The cd had arrived at Mo’s easily a month ago. But I knew you hung out there, and I asked if he could let me know when your album came in so I could coincidentally bump into you.”

“Wait Mo actually told you when my album came in before telling me?” I ask outraged.

“Yeah, he also told me that you visit the store two times a month like clockwork and that you just happen to be his best customer.”

“It’s a little creepy that he told you all that. It’s even creepier to know that you wanted to know all of that.”

“Mo’s my uncle. And if it’s any consolation, I had to pry this information out of him. He went on and on about privacy and that I shouldn’t be so creepy. But I didn’t want to just be like ‘oh hey, Lucy who I barely know but think about constantly, I like you.’ You would have thought I was totally weird.”

“You are totally weird. But I like that.” At that moment I trusted Ethan. Maybe it was because he was being so candid. Maybe it was because Mo was Ethan’s uncle, and I trusted Mo. Whatever the reason, I knew Ethan was someone I could trust.

“Well, what are we waiting for? Surprise me, Finch!” We spent the entire afternoon inside that supposed abandoned warehouse just outside of the city limits. Turns out that warehouse was really an old-school roller skating rink. Inside, not only did we roller skate, but there was an ice cream bar where we splurged on the largest milkshake I’ve ever seen.

Today was sheer magic. And I know once and for all that bad luck was no longer a friend of mine. And it was all thanks to the penny in my pocket. When night fell, Ethan walks  me home. Never letting go of my hand, never letting the conversation falter. When he drops me off at my front door, he kisses me gently on the lips, leaving me breathless. We didn’t exchange numbers but instead promised to meet at Mo’s tomorrow at one. I practically float into the house.

“Hey Lu,” mom greets me from the kitchen. She’s cooking dinner, judging from the smells wafting through the house.

“Hi Ma,” I call back as I run up the steps and toward my room. “You hungry?” She calls up the stairs. ”

Starving!”

“Good! Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes. Bring down any dirty clothes, it’s laundry night.”

***

I try not to leave my house before a half past noon. The walk to Mo’s will only take about fifteen minutes, but if I walk slow enough about twenty. I don’t want to look over-excited but I can’t help myself. And deep down I don’t care if I do look over-excited. I know Ethan is feeling the same way.

I take my time walking to Mo’s. The sun seems to be shining even more than normal. The birds seem to be singing just a bit louder. I haven’t even seen Ethan yet, but it’s already a great day. I arrive at Mo’s a solid ten minutes before we planned on meeting. I don’t go in. Instead, I lean against the brick wall outside and check the time obsessively. With two minutes to spare I start to panic. I thought he would have been here by now. I

look back into Mo’s thinking maybe he’s been waiting inside for me, but it’s empty except for Mo, who like yesterday is perched at the front counter reading a magazine. I wait another ten minutes. Ethan told me yesterday that he doesn’t drive and that he doesn’t plan to so he relies heavily on public transportation. I tell myself that the buses are just running late. But the tiny voice inside of my head tells me different.

I push those negative thoughts out of my mind and decide to wait. I wait another ten minutes. It’s now twenty minutes after one. I knew we should have exchanged phone numbers. I could have called him to make sure he was okay. Because at this point, I am convinced that something terrible has happened to him. And again that voice chimes in. I shove it deeper down and ignore it. I wait another ten minutes. It’s now half past one and I know in my heart of hearts that he isn’t coming.

The realization that yesterday was all a big joke crashes down on me. It takes everything I have not to break down in front of Mo’s. I turn back and peer into the store. Mo looks up and waves at me. I know I shouldn’t, but I have to ask. I walk into Mo’s determined to get the answers I’m looking for.

“Hey Mo,” I say.

“Lucy Lu! Two days in a row! What did you think of that Sexy Mavis album?”

“I didn’t get a chance to listen to it yet. Hey, listen Mo, can I ask you something? About Ethan?”

“Sure.”

“We were supposed to meet today. But he never showed. Is he okay?” Mo looks confused. So much so that he actually scratches his head.

“Are you sure about that Lucy Lu?”

“Positive,” I say confidently.

“Well, sorry Lucy Lu, Ethan, and his mom went away last night. They won’t be back until August.”

I’m shocked. I nod and mumble a thank you in Mo’s direction. He keeps talking but I don’t hear him. I’m so upset I don’t care who sees me crying. Why would Ethan do this to me? Why would anyone find toying with someone’s emotions funny? Why? Why? Why? And suddenly I stop.

The penny!

It’s because of the penny! I reach into my pocket and sure enough, I lost the penny. It must have fallen out somewhere. Maybe when it was in the laundry. All I know is that the penny is gone, and so is my good luck.

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The Prompts So Far

We are picking our prompts from

To start we chose some prompts that we both like and are excited to write about.

Here are the prompts we plan to work from first:

      1. You realize that a shop you walk past everyday is only visible to you and no one else. What awaits you inside?
      2. You run after someone who left a strange book on a bus and they go into a house. Through the window you see..
      3. My mother only had two basic rules. Don’t ever fall in love and never summon a demon. I couldn’t honor either.
      4. – Bored at college you start tapping inaudibly under your seat. You find a note stuck to the bottom of it.
      5. – You come home to find an old fashioned phone sitting in the middle of your table. No wires lead to it. It rings.
      6. – ’14th Century’ read the sign by the pub. Odd. The building looked old but definitely hadn’t been there yesterday.
      7. – The lights of every house in the town were on that night, except for one.
      8. – Your villain has to go to therapy to discuss their issues. Write about what transpires during the session.
      9. – Five people meet over dinner. All their deaths are scheduled for two weeks time. Some want to die, some do not.
      10. – An innocent tweet about your breakfast spirals out of control, when a strange police squad arrests you for treason.
      11. -As the elevator door is about to close, you lock eyes with someone on the other side…someone from you past.
      12. – You come to work one day to find all e-mails and social media accounts logged into another person. Who are they?
      13. – A local take-away doesn’t have a menu or serve food, but weird customers come and go. You get a job to investigate.
      14. – In a train station, you see someone interesting and steal their bag and ticket. Where will your new items take you?
      15. – In a book shop, she sees a book with her name on the spine. Her picture is on the book jacket. She did not write it.
      16. – I knew it was over the day he shouted mushrooms.
      17. – She began to run, faster and faster, as quickly as her short legs could carry her. There was no turning back now.
      18. – A lady finds notes in books she borrows from the library. She searches for the sender.
      19. – ‘Is your name Lisa?” asked the waitress. ‘Yes,” she lied.
      20. – He was the one person I hated more than anything. And now I’m stuck on an elevator with him.
      21. – The window in the garden wall was been boarded up forever, but tonight a dull, violet light pulses in the cracks.
      22. – What if the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow?

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The Little Women are Back!

Greetings everyone!

I’m happy to report that after a long absence Nicole and I are back and ready to share more short stories.

Here’s what you can expect from Little Women Stories as we gear up for our May relaunch:

  • Two stories a month from Emma and Nicole
  • Each month we will share one free write story each
  • Each month we will each write a story based on a predetermined prompt

Nicole and I are both really excited to get back to short stories, this blog, and writing. If you like any of those things I hope you’ll join us on this journey and read some of our stories!

Here’s to seeing a lot more of each other!

-Emma

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Winning

“Why are you stopping?” Ana asks as I shake her off my back.

“Because …. I can’t … breath,” I manage to huff out. I drop to the grassy patch alongside the track. I take deep breaths in and out, in and out.  “What’s my time?”

“No where near where you need to be,” Ana says. She’s standing beside me. Normally she’s a few inches shorter than me, but from my position, she seems to tower above. “Get up,” she says with just a hint of annoyance.

“I can’t do this,” I say looking up to meet her judgmental gaze. Her pale face is blocked out by the midday sun. I’m glad I can’t see her face – I have a list of people I’ve let down, and I can’t bear to add Ana to that already long list.  But my heart is beating at an alarming rate, I can’t seem to catch my breath, and blisters are forming on top of blisters.   “Seriously, I give up. Just leave me here to die.”

“Destiny Marie Augustine, you get your ass up right this instant! You are not a quitter, you hear me?!” she barks. I hold my hand out to her in the hopes that she’ll take mercy on me and at least help me off the ground.  She helps me up, and before I know it I find myself once again hoisting her up and on my back.

“Ready,” I ask.

“Ready ….. set…. GO!” Ana shouts in my ear. My feet hit the spongy blue track. At first all I can think about is how tired I am and how heavy Ana is. But as I continue to run, I remember just how much I want this. No, not want – need this.

I always thought that breaking a world record would be cool,, but never cool enough to actually go through with it.  But after finding out the local news is holding a contest where one local record setter would win a whopping five thousand dollars. This is it, my one big opportunity. As much as  I want the money for myself, I can’t afford to be that selfish.

When dad took off, he took his bank account with him. We weren’t rich then by any means, but we were comfortable. – a solid roof over our heads, a balanced meal, even if they were frozen, and new clothes every school year. No, me, mom, and my younger brother are so close to the poverty line it actually hurts. Mom takes as many odd jobs as she can, but the money she scrapes up is barely enough to cover a full month’s rent of our rickety old trailer. I bus tables at the greasy spoon, and use my free meal to feed three people. And even little Leo has a daily bus route.  Every penny helps, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough.

That is why I have to win this contest. That five thousand dollars will really help me and my family. Maybe even start a small college fund for Leo.

The paper set strict rules for the contest.  Participants can’t just set out to break any old record. Participants have to break the record for the fastest mile run. But here’s the catch, they have to set the record to the fast piggy back mile run.

The original record was set by two dudes in the United Kingdom. In order to beat these dudes my time had to beat their eleven minutes and eleven second record. While I want this more than anything else I have ever wanted, I am not aiming high. I’m setting out to shave that eleven seconds off, and run the full mile with Ana piggy back in eleven minutes flat.

This is why I now find myself with my one hundred and fifteen pound friend strapped to my back.  As I round the bend, I realize that I am essentially carrying my own body weight.

The finish line is sight. I push myself harder than I ever have before. I cross the line and drop Ana on the ground.

“Time?”

“Eleven minutes and fifteen seconds. Almost there! Come on, let’s go around one more time.”

I shoot her the severest look I can manage. “I can’t. Work,” is all I manage to huff out.  She doesn’t argue, she knows I can’t afford to call out or even go in a minute late. Sergio, my boss, will dock me if I’m late.  Or at least he threatens to. “I still have to shower.”

“You have an hour,” she says stubbornly.  I know she means well, and that she wants this for me just as much as I want this for myself. But Ana just doesn’t get it. She doesn’t fully get how tough it truly is. She doesn’t know what it’s line to eat only one meal a day, or what its like to have to wear her hand me downs. Or to worry constantly if there will be a home to go home to at the end of the day.   “So, you’re just…”

I cut her off. “No, I’m not giving up. I’m just putting this on pause for the day. We’ll be back out here tomorrow morning.”

She doesn’t respond but I see her resignation. “Come on, I buy you a drink at the water fountain,” I say with a laugh.  She slings her arm around my shoulder and we walk to the fountain.

“You can do this, you know?”

“Can I?” I ask sheepishly. As much as I want this, I don’t necessarily believe that I can actually win this. Good things like this don’t happen to people like me.   “I want to believe that I can.”

“Than believe it babe! You got this!” Even though I don’t love drill sergeant Ana, I do love how supportive she is and always has been. And it’s the reason why she pushes me so hard.  “The contest is next week, are you nervous?”

“No, not nervous. Maybe anxious?”

“Why?”

“Because there’s so much riding this. That money is practically spent already.”

“You’ll win.”

“But how can you be so sure?”

“Because I know you. And I know what you’re capable of, even if you don’t.”

“Thanks!” Her vote of confidence helps me believe that I can and will actually do this.

***

“Contestants! To your marks!”

“You ready?” I ask Ana.

“The real question is are you ready?”

“Yeah, I am,” I respond. And it’s in that moment that I realize that it’s true. I have worked hard, and in this past week I have pushed myself to every limit. I have shaved seconds off my time. I just hope it’s enough.

I look at the people scattered around the track. There are people from the newspaper, looking very official with ties and little notebooks in hand. There are the world record’s people, also very official looking with fancy clipboards. There are people I know, like Nathan Snow, captain of my high school’s track team, and his head cheerleader girlfriend, Marsha Taylor. And there are people I don’t know, but they all look very athletic.

I scan the bleachers in the hopes of that maybe, just maybe, mom would be here to cheer me on. I spot Sergio and Loraine – they are holding a sign that says “Go Destiny!” . Seeing my boss and my favorite coworker and that ridiculous sign brings a smile to my face. A row over I spot Leo sitting with Ana’s family. They wave frantically at me. Leo gives me two thumbs up.

“Let’s get the show on the road,” I say looking at Ana.

“Lead the way, champ!”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I say taking my place on the track.

“Listen,” Ana starts, spinning me around. “No matter what happens, whether or not you win that money. I want you to know that I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks. You know, I couldn’t do this without you, right?”

“Don’t get all sappy on me now! You have a record to set, and I have to see that you do.”

“On your mark. Get ready. Go!” the emcee booms into a microphone. I take off, slow and steady making sure my breath and my heart rate are even. As I find my footing I pick up speed.

I’m about half way around and I realize that it’s just me and Anna and Nathan and Marsha.   When I first start this, I made a strict rule that Ana and I would not talk in the midst of running. I need to focus everything to the task at hand. But I break my rule.

“Where … is everyone?” I breath out. I can feel Ana crane around to scope out the scene.

“It looks like some dropped out already. Heh, losers!” she says gleefully.

“And the rest?”

“Slow pokes. It’s just you and Nathan.”

Knowing this only makes me want to run faster, harder. Nathan is on okay guy I guess. I’ve never had any problems with him. In all honesty, he’s an all around nice guy. But right now, he’s my competition. And he’s only doing this for the glory. If we could share the prize I’d give him the glory and take the cash.

“I know we promised not to talk, but Marsha is starting to whine about how uncomfortable she is. You got this Destiny! You’re going to win!”

I run and run for what seems like hours. But before I know it the one mile mark is within reach. Nathan and I are neck and neck … almost. I turn my head just enough to see Marsha squirming and that Nathan’s is having a difficult time keeping his stride.  But he’s an athlete, competition runs in his blood. I know he’s not going to give up, not without a fight.

I bate him by letting up a little, letting him think that I’m just so tired I can’t keep up my pace. He takes the bait with a sly smile – one that says ‘I got this’. But just as he’s thinking that this record-setting is his for the taking, I push myself just a bit harder, close the gap and before I know it, I cross the finish line … first!

I’m so elated and exhausted that I don’t even think about my time. I let Ana down and within a split second she’s jumping, hooting, and hollering. Once again her arms are around my neck. But this time she’s hugging me, and a bit too tightly admittedly.

“Did I win?”

“You came in at ten minutes and fifty-eight seconds! You won!”

“I won?!”

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No Time for Sweetness

I listen to the hall clock strike eleven while I stare at Daddy’s pocket watch open in front of me on the kitchen table. The hallway clock is five minutes fast according to Daddy’s watch. He was always fussy about it keeping good time what with being a train conductor and all. I can’t say it’s as accurate as when he was alive but I’ve done my best to keep it wound since he was shot down.

The hallway clock clangs its way through all eleven chimes. Each one sounding more and more like a nail in my coffin. If Mama was still alive she’d tell me these dark thoughts are what come from plotting revenge. But all I have left of her is the rifle in my lap hidden beneath the white linen tablecloth so I suppose it doesn’t matter too much.

I told Jess Cartwright to meet me here at eleven. I’m not sure now what time he might go by. All I know is I plan to point Mama’s rifle at him as soon as he sets himself across the table from me. Mama and Daddy both would have said there were better ways to get information from a man, especially for a pretty girl like me. Especially when the whole town knows Jess has been sweet on me since we were children.

But Lord knows I don’t have time for sweetness. Not when the train robbers who shot Daddy already have a three day head start on the trail heading back east.

I’m spending so much time picturing Jess across from me with Mama’s rifle pointed at his chest while he tells me what I need to know, sweet as you please, that I almost miss when he actually walks into the kitchen through the back door. We never used to lock that door when Mama was alive. I won’t be here long enough to worry too hard about protecting what’s mine. Not when I know Daddy won’t be walking through that door any time soon.

“Christ, Cora,” Jess exclaims when he spots me in the dark kitchen. “You could scare a soul half to death sitting in wait like that.”

He pulls out a chair and I raise my rifle onto the table as he sits. “Don’t you go dying of fright on me just yet, Jess. Not before you tell me what I need to know.”

I can tell he wants to jump up. Maybe run to Sherriff Pomeroy to tell him the town’s got a hysterical orphan on their hands. But then Jess sees the steady hold I have on the rifle and the coldness that’s settled around my eyes—I’ve seen it myself looking in the mirror Mama kept on her dresser. There’s not a thing there to suggest I won’t shoot Jess where he stands.

“This trigger is getting a might slippery Jess. It sure would make things easier if you started talking,” I say evenly.

“Cora, I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish but I don’t know a damn thing you need to know.” He doesn’t bother to apologize for his language. But then we never did stand on ceremony like that. Not with each other. Not until I had to point a rifle at him to make sure I get the truth.

The sun is beating through the windows and I can feel the sweat trickling down my back. Mama and Daddy always loved Arizona. Said there was nothing quite like a sunset out west. Lord, I dreamed of going back east and seeing the ocean Mama grew up next to all the way in Maine. Never thought I’d be planning to head east without either of them. But first I need to know where to go.

“I know as well as you that isn’t true,” I say calmly. I rest the rifle more steady on the table so I can lean forward and look Jess in the eye. “We both know you were on that train Jess. Daddy told your pa he’d keep an eye on you. You had to see what happened.”

“Cora, I can’t tell you what you need to know.”

“I don’t remember saying you had a choice.”

Jess shakes his head so violently it sets his curly hair bouncing. “Nothing doing. You might think you know what you’re doing but your parents wouldn’t want this. Not for you. Not ever.”

I clench my teeth so hard I’m surprised they don’t snap off right in my mouth. “Daddy was shot when the train was robbed and the men who did it have a three day head start. Mama’s gone and has been for five years. There is nothing here for me.” I stop abruptly when I hear the way my voice cracks. I can’t cry anymore. I have no time for it. I ignore the hurt look Jess gives me as I continue, “But if you tell me what you saw, maybe I can follow the men back east and make sure they’re taken in.”

“You and what army, Cora? Those men are outlaws. Your mother’s hand-me-down rifle isn’t going to anything against them. Even the sheriff couldn’t mount a posse. What makes you think you can do what they wouldn’t even try?”

“I guess I don’t have anything left to lose.”

“Cora—”

“No!” I cut him off as I point the gun squarely at him. “I will not have you protect me. I don’t care what history we have or what you think you might owe my parents. I will do this. It’ll go faster with your information but I’ll do it either way. And if you don’t start talking, I will shoot you.”

Jess stares at me for a long, long moment. In the silence I wonder if this is what it feels like when a bone breaks. I think it must be.

“There were eight of them. The Pinkertons on the train shot three in the chaos just before your father was shot down. Six rode off but one was favoring his right side. They were heading east. I heard one of them mention Independence. That’s all I know.”

I return the rifle to my side of the table before I stand. “I thank you for that.” I walk away from the table. I still have a mess of things to prepare before I can set off.

I don’t realize Jess is walking toward me instead of out the door until I feel his hand on my shoulder.

“Cora, please. I’m asking you not to do this. Let the law handle things.”

I turn to face him. “You said yourself that the law isn’t going to do a thing to get justice for Daddy.”

“Your parents wouldn’t want you to do this,” he tries.

“They aren’t here to stop me,” I say as I step away from him.

“I am.”

I look at Jess. He’s asked me to marry him before. Last Christmas and just last week on my nineteenth birthday. He’s told people before that he was sweet on me. But I said no. Both times. Mama didn’t raise me to want to tie myself down. Daddy didn’t teach me to put my own life second to any man’s. Even one like Jess.

“You can’t stop me either. And if you try I will never forgive you.”

Jess looks real wistful as he says, “I could come with you, Cora. I could help.”

“We both know that isn’t true.” Not when Jess has three sisters and an entire farm to tend for his ailing father.

Jess nods. “It never would have been enough, would it?” he asks as he turns to the door.

“What’s that?”

“I always thought eventually you’d want to settle and maybe your eyes would turn my way. That never was going to happen though, was it?”

“Everything’s different now, Jess. I can’t rightly say.”

He nods, real thoughtful like he gets sometimes. Especially when I tell him no. “I suppose we both always knew how out story would end.”

I pick up Mama’s rifle and add it to the saddlebag I started packing last night when I decided this was the only road I could take.

“I suppose we did,” I say as I turn my back to him. I don’t stay in the kitchen to hear the finality of the door closing between us.

 

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Rain

He stared at the blank computer screen. Waiting. He knew from the past three years of school that spells didn’t write themselves; that some magician was behind every spell ever recited, every piece of magic written. He also knew that if he didn’t write and hand in a new spell in the next twelve hours he would fail Advanced Spell Creation 301 and would have to repeat his final year.

Phillip Carton, to put in bluntly, was in bad trouble.

He ran his hands through his hair. He didn’t remember when he’d last had time to comb it. The way his hands stuck in the mane of curls suggested it had been a while. He pushes his glasses higher up his nose and stared again at the screen. No words had materialized on the screen. No inspiration struck.

Phillip took a deep breath as he struggled to tamp down his rising panic. He’d had two months to write this spell. All of his other work was turned in, grades submitted. Literally the only thing standing between him and his Magician Certification was this one unwritten spell.

He had tried to write it, of course. He’d written hundreds of spells. Most of them still littered the floor of his dorm room.

The problem was none of them worked.

He could perform spells. He’d memorized all of the important potion formulas. He could treat magical injuries. He was the top of his class in illusions.

But somehow, in the course of his five years at the school, Phillip had never caught the knack of writing new spells, of putting words to page to create some new piece of wonder; he still didn’t know how to make his own magic.

Phillip closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Five years of school and now it would come down to this. Twelve hours and one spell. He would have no time to test it himself before submitting it to the Graduation Board.

His eyes roved over the failed spells that littered his floor. Maybe the problem wasn’t that he couldn’t write spells. What if, he could hardly believe the audacity of it, but what if he was just thinking too small?

What if his spells to find missing socks and mend broken glasses were too mundane? What if the spell to make perfect scrambled eggs was too unoriginal?

Phillip Carton was a clever man. All of his teachers said so and many of his classmates hated him for it. Perhaps it was just time for Phillip to do what he did best. It was time to be clever.

Birdsong brought his gaze to the window. It hadn’t rained in a month—nearly unprecedented in the typically rainy area where the school was based. Phillip returned to his computer screen with a new vigor as the words he would need began to form in his mind.

Phillip’s fingers raced along the keys of his computer. He would have just enough time to proofread and print the spell before he would run to submit it to the Graduation Board and observe while the members of the board tested and probed the spell.

This spell, he knew, would work. It had to.

Phillip Carton was going to make it rain.

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Noticed

Alice waits another week before she gives up. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. (Responding to one of the three she wrote to him, of course.)

She pretends to forget the bright blue of his eyes. She stops looking for him in every part of the store. She tries hard to convince herself that his hair was cut so short because he was dealing badly with premature baldness in her effort to create flaws where previously she saw none.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. Because nothing ever happened and, she realizes with the unique clarity that comes from hindsight, most likely nothing ever would have happened.

She tries to tell herself it doesn’t hurt now. She studiously ignores the gaping hole where something more could have been. She must have imagined this loneliness and want that she can’t quite ignore and can’t quite name.

***

In retrospect, again that painfully clear hindsight, it isn’t much of a surprise. All of her crushes—the bad ones—have been on coworkers. All of them have been disasters.

Loving a celebrity from afar always seems too easy; too much like cheating to pine for someone so obviously unattainable. So no. Her crushes—the painful ones she can only think about in quick, fleeting moments after the fact—are always real. Always too close.

Nick wasn’t any different.

***

She never actually had a chance to call him Nick. They never said each other’s names. She knew his name after a lengthy search through the staff directory. And he knew hers after the first email. But that was all. Even now, with the bitter aftertaste of what could have been burning in her throat, there is something scandalous about thinking of him that way—a name that never was never really hers to use freely.

Later, after he replied to her first email and they actually spoke to each other out loud, she learned that they had started working at the department store on the same day. It took a few weeks for her to notice him. Maybe Appliances involved more training than generic checkout. Maybe she just hadn’t paid attention.

But after she saw him, after she realized she was unconsciously tracking him across the store, she knew it was only a matter of time. She knew she was in trouble.

That was before any of the emails. Before she tracked down his name and found excuses to talk about the intricacies of the hierarchy between departments just to mention him. Before she called him anything but That Really Cute Guy in Appliances in her head.

After that but before he replied to the first email she thought something had changed. It wasn’t exactly that he noticed her. Girls who got noticed never had these problems. They were handed phone numbers. They were asked out on dates.

Alice didn’t get noticed. In particularly bleak moments she wondered if Dorothy Parker had been right about boys and girls who wear glasses. Girls Who Got Noticed never seemed to wear glasses. They didn’t have complicated crushes that lasted for months only to fall apart like a spectacularly elaborate house of cards.

So no. Nick didn’t notice her. But he did start talking to her. He did, it seemed for a while at least, seek her out. But maybe that’s something any handsome guy would do. (No matter how much she tried to drive home the idea of the premature baldness, Alice could not deny that Nick was attractive. It was a pointless exercise.) And what attractive person doesn’t want to be adored?

She never put much stock in books that talked about characters blushing until those heady early weeks. She must have looked like a lobster from the way her cheeks heated up when he so much as smiled at her.

The problem with having a painful crush on someone you only see in passing at work, though, was that it’s hard to get to know a person that way. It was hard, Alice learned, to find anything to talk about that didn’t make her sound like a blathering idiot.

He kept coming back though so maybe that was all right. After so much waiting, maybe something was going to happen. Maybe, for once, Alice (wildly hoped) she would actually be Noticed.

But Nick was transferred instead. To Electronics. In another store on the opposite end of town.

That’s when she sent the first email. When he wrote back. When they finally both knew the other’s name.

She sent the second email a little later. When she was sure he was well and truly away and the crushed seemed well and truly pointless. When she thought she had nothing to lose because being brave seemed like a grand idea and pride seemed like a small thing to risk.

He was transferred back the week after that. Of course. After the second email asked him out and admitted that she had Noticed him for quite some time. But maybe that was obvious all along with her lobster red cheeks and incoherent speech and the way she politely refused to acknowledge the bald spot even existed. (In hindsight and with just a little bitterness she can admit now that the bald spot was, in fact, significant in size.)

After he came back, for a little while anyway, it seemed like something might happen. She added more cards to her card-house-crush and she thought for once it might stay strong. She made plans. She had hopes. She named things she wouldn’t usually talk about like that loneliness and want that hindsight are making her feel so acutely right now.

She wondered, briefly and fantastically, if this was what it felt like to be Noticed the way all of her friends who did not wear glasses or have elaborate crushes seemed to be Noticed.

But it wasn’t like that.

Two weeks after he came back, three after she sent that reckless second email, and he never said a word to her. He waved the one time she passed him on her way to the register. They looked at each other quite a few times across the cavernous aisle that separated the bank of registers from Appliances. Once, she was so so sure he was going to walk over. But he never did any of those things. He never emailed even though Alice was sure it would have been the easiest thing in the world.

Suddenly, in such a short time, all of the potential and hope fizzled away to uncertainty and confusion as Alice wondered how she could have possibly been so wrong. Again.

That’s when she sent the third email. And she isn’t proud of that. But pride, it turns out, really is the first thing to go when emotions start to run high.

There were a lot of things she wanted to say to him. A lot of questions to ask, if she was being honest. Instead she kept it simple and she tried to stay civil. She didn’t talk about how many hopes she had pinned to him. She didn’t admit that the idea of being Noticed seemed so much more exciting that noticing someone. She didn’t even hint at the weeks of silence. Instead she went to his email—the only one he had sent when everything still seemed about to happen—and she hit reply again. She didn’t think too hard before she wrote that he could have just said no. He could have given her that small dignity of acknowledgement.

 

***

Alice waits another week before she gives up. For real this time. Then she carefully picks everything up and hides it away. Deep. She deletes the one email he wrote to her. She deletes her replies too. She doesn’t need them to remember that she tried. She doesn’t want them to remind her that it didn’t work.

Eventually his eyes don’t seem quite as bright. And his hair really is short because of the bald spot. He is still handsome, perspective can only change so much, but not in a painful way. Not in a way that makes her heart ache anymore.

She pushes it all aside and reminds herself that she has nothing to be sad about. She tries and succeeds when she tells herself it doesn’t hurt now. She tells herself there are more important things and she is going to find them soon. Maybe they’ll even Notice her.

She tells herself all of that and she believes it because, she realizes with beautiful clarity, that it’s true.

That is what she’s thinking, with a small smile just for herself not for any crush, when she sees a new message with Nick’s name in her inbox. That is what she is thinking as her cursor slides uncertainly between “open” and “delete.”

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Problem Solving

“Lemonade,” Ginny, my younger sister says, standing over me. Her wild, red curls block the sun. But just barely. I lean back on my heels, and look up at her round, cherubic face. I wonder how it is even possible that we are related. As opposite as day and night, Gran always says.

“Did you make it?”

“No, the Johnson’s down the street did,” she replies sarcastically. Her hand extended towards me, I watch the cubes of ice clank against the glass. I am thirsty, but not enough to drink Ginny’s lemonade.

“I’ll pass,” I say. Ginny’s lemonade is just a bit too sweet for my liking.

“Suit yourself,” she says as she turns around and back towards the house.

“Hey!” I call after her. She stops, but doesn’t turn around to face me. She knows what’s coming. “Why don’t you stay out her and help me?”

“You want me to help you?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Because you never want my help.”

It’s true. Since mom and dad took on a second jobs, and Gran’s health has taken a turn for the worse, I’ve slid into the adult role around the house. It’s not a role I ever wanted, but it’s a role I have dutifully taken on. And admittedly, I’m a bit of a control freak. Ginny is always offering to help – with the dishes, with the grocery shopping – but I always refuse.  Believe me, it’s not because I don’t want her help, it’s because I want her to enjoy the remainder of her childhood.  But Ginny doesn’t see that.

“Here,” I say handing her a hand shovel. “You were always better than digging holes than I was,” I say.

She willingly takes the shovel from me, and kneels beside me. We work in silence, her shoveling and me weeding the pesky sprouts and shoots of grass and dandelions.

“Remember that summer we spent at the beach?”

“Yeah. Remember how every morning mom had to coax you in just to eat breakfast?”

“I was trying to build Cinderella’s castle!”

“It looked more like a cave,” I say and we both laugh in unison.

“It did not!” she says bitterly, throwing a handful of dirt in my direction.

We don’t talk, but I know we are both silently reminiscing about that long-lost summer. The summer that was perfect. Mom and dad actually had quality time to spend with us. Money wasn’t free-flowing, but it wasn’t as tight as it is now. And Gran was a  vibrant woman who was more active than my sister and I combined.

We spent those summer days lounging on the beach, jumping waves, and eating dad’s famous tuna salad sandwiches. Nights we spent around the table playing Uno.

It’s cliché to even think it, but those were the days.  The days when life wasn’t perfect, but it was damn near close.

I weed silently lost in thoughts of the past.

“Ka-tie! Earth to Katie!”

“Huh, what were you saying?”

“What planet were you visiting?”

“What?”

“You were spacing out. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Keep digging. That hole isn’t big enough.”

“How deep does it have to be?”

“Deep enough to plant that tomato plant,” I say pointing to the row of pots I have lined up and waiting to be planted. “Why are you planting so much this year?”

“No reason,” I lie, and Ginny knows it. She always knows when I’m lying.

“Spill it,” she demands.

“It’s nothing really. It’s just … ” I hesitate, not wanting her shoulders to be weighed down by the burden.

“It’s just what?”

Ginny is a lot stronger than she looks – both physically and emotionally. Stronger than I can and ever will be.

“Money is tight Gin, tighter than it usually is. We’re barely making the bills and rent. And food for a family of five is getting more and more difficult,” I say and linger off. I don’t want her to see the full picture. I don’t want her to know that  I overheard mom and dad talking about how they can’t afford groceries this month.  “This is my way of contributing, Gin. It’s the least I could do.”

“You do a lot, though.”

“It’s not nearly enough. And at least this way I actually feel like I’m doing something … anything, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.”

I lean back on my heels, and stretch my aching shoulders.  I reach over and grab Ginny’s glass that is stationed between us on the hot concrete slab.  I take a sip of her lemonade. It’s as terrible as I expect it to be. But I’m so thirsty I don’t really care. I’m guzzling the sweet liquid when I hear a clink and a clank.

“What’s that?” I ask looking over Ginny’s hunched shoulders.

“Some sort of metal box,” she says uprooting the dirt covered, rusted box.  Ginny turns the box over in her hands. When she’s done, she tries to pry it open. “It’s stuck!”

“It’s not stuck, it’s locked.”

“Same difference,” she says knowing all to well that I hate that saying. “Here.”

She passes me the box. I inspect it, turning it several times over in my hands. I shake it to try to determine what’s on the inside.  “Something’s in there,” I announce, quite obviously.

“Really, Sherlock?”

I swat at Ginny teasingly. “Do you have a hair pin?”

“A what?”

“A hair pin?”

“Do you mean a bobby pin?”

“Don’t get technical.”

“What do I look like, a walking beauty salon?”

“With that hair of yours … who know what’s hiding in there?!”

“Gran has a ton of them,” she says picking herself off the ground. “Come on,” she says walking away towards the house.

The quiet consumes us as we walk in. I remember the days when life and laughter greeted us at the door. Gran is a sleep in her rocker in front of the ancient television set. Mom and Dad are both at work, due home at any moment. I follow Ginny into Gran’s stark white room. So white, in the late day sun, it’s almost blinding.

I walk over to her dresser, and take a good, long look at my dirt streaked face.  I’m tired, and the dark circles around my eyes show it. Wisps of hair have escaped the bun at the top of my head. My lips are chapped.   Not wanting to face myself in the mirror, I start looking at the many photos Gran has circling the mirror. There are pictures of Gran as a young bride, Gramps, now long gone, in his Air Force uniform. There are pictures of my mom at ripe age of five, dressed in her Sunday’s best and her strawberry blonde curls glistening in the sun. Then there are pictures of me and Ginny.

“Forget the bobby pin,” Ginny says. I spin around and in between her fingers dangles a small, gold key.  I snatch it out of her hands and sink down into the plush mauve carpeting. Ginny sits across from me.

I work the key into the rust lock. It takes some work, but after a long, hard moment I slip the key in. With a good twist, I hear the lock pop. Victory! I lift the lid and my jaw hits the ground .. audibly.

“What is it? What’s in the box?!”

“The solution to all of our problems!”

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Letters

Prompt: Write a ghost story. 

She sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

He never replied. She had been writing him long enough to know he likely never would. There was a certain freedom in that. She felt she could tell him all of her secrets. Even if he did read them, he would never judge her. Not, perhaps, because he was as perfect as she imagined, but because he would never reply. It was enough.

“I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she wrote before signing her name.

She closed the red door of her house and walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was mid-afternoon with sunlight so bright her pale skin seemed transparent. She nodded to the old woman walking her dog. The woman studiously ignored her, instead keeping her eyes on the phone in her hand. The old woman’s dog growled and barked until the old woman tugged on his leash and they moved further down the street.

Every day, she sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

She told him about her life in the drafty old house. There used to be other occupants but it had been a long time since she had seen them. They had moved, she supposed. She imagined other people might be lonely. She imagined she should be lonely. But she had her house and she had her letters. It felt like enough.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be around other people,” she wrote. “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she finished before signing her name.

She moved through the red doorway of her house. She walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was cloudy and nearly dusk. The darkening skies seemed to pull the light away from everything, even her already pale skin so that she almost glowed. She nodded to the old woman walking her dog. The woman studiously ignored her, instead keeping her eyes on the phone in her hand. The old woman’s dog growled and barked when she tried to pet him. The old woman tugged on his leash and they moved further down the street.

The next day, she sat down at her desk. She pulled out her monogrammed stationary. She uncapped her favorite black pen. She pulled her hair out of her way over one shoulder, set pen to paper and began to write him a letter.

Her pen stopped writing in the middle of her letter. She stared at it for a moment. She couldn’t remember the last time she had needed a new pen. She didn’t know if she had any others. She looked around, disoriented, and wondered for a moment if there was something she was missing. But she had a letter to write.

She set pen back to paper and kept writing. “I feel lost,” she wrote, “and I’m not sure why. Is there somewhere else I should be?” She didn’t expect a reply from him and found no answers in her own mind. “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life,” she finished before signing her name.

The red door offered no resistance as she passed through. She walked out to the mailbox on the corner and slipped the letter inside. It was late by then. She had been delayed by the pen running out of ink. She didn’t remember getting a new one, but she had the letter in her hand so it must have been fine. There was no old woman and no dog. She found she missed them. She slid the letter into the box and drifted back home.

It was too dark to see the eye peering at her from behind a living room curtain. She would have ignored it if she had seen it though. It was getting early and she had a letter to write.

The girl in the living waited until the ghost disappeared through the front door of the house with the red door. Everyone knew about the ghost and pretended they didn’t. Her grandfather was the only one who talked about it—a legend passed down from postman to postman and, sometimes, to curious granddaughters.

They said that the ghost was the woman who used to own the house with the red door. She and her husband moved there after their honeymoon. Before her husband was drafted and deployed.

She told him she would write every day, a promise she kept obsessively. Even after he was declared MIA in Burgundy. Even after V Day and the search for his remains was abandoned.

The way her grandfather told the story, the woman died of a broken heart. But she kept writing. Every day. Waiting for his husband to find his way back to her. If the mailbox on the corner ever seemed cold to the touch, or the air held a sharper bite, he said it meant the woman was mailing her latest letter.

Sometimes her grandfather had even found an envelope in the box. No return address, nothing on the envelope save for a too-old stamp and a name. Her grandfather had never opened the envelopes because he was a professional. The girl had, though. She steamed one open to find a page so faded it was nearly blank. At the bottom, slightly darker than the other words on the page, the girl could make out the words “I think I’ve loved you for my entire life.”

The girl stared at the opened letter now. She could just make out the ghost’s name with a magnifying glass and some guesswork.

She sat down at her desk. She pulled out her white stationary. She uncapped a blue pen. She pushed her bangs off her face, set pen to paper. Carefully, in her neatest handwriting, she wrote: “He’s waiting for you. It’s time to move on.”

The girl sealed the envelope and walked to the house with the red door. She didn’t know if the ghost checked her own mail; her grandfather had no reason to deliver mail to the vacant house nor any useful stories.

The girl squared her shoulders and walked up to the red door. She slipped her note through the mail slot in the front door and stayed for a moment to listen. The house was dark so she would never be sure, but she thought she saw a shadow move past the front window and heard a sound like an envelope being torn open.

The girl was certain, however, that she heard a slow sigh before she peered through the mail slot and saw her note and its envelope float back down to the floor.

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