Fragment Friday – The Flappers

Happy Friday Firefans,

I wrote this piece  a couple Octobers ago, in response to a writing prompt Lori gave me. I pulled it out of the dusty archives of my computer and read it again, (forced myself not to edit or think about how much better I could write it now) and had a snicker at my original idea for a surprise ending.- which later I decided I didn’t like and changed. The ending isn’t here,  because I thought I would let you tell me how you think it should end! I’m still open for suggestions.

In any case I hope it gets you in a spooky mood just in time for a lovely October weekend.

Till next time,

~C

The Pink Flappers

Rain pelted down in sheets and rolling thunder boomed as I peered out the small, diamond-shaped sections of clear glass framed in the wooden front door. There was no hope of getting Mamie to come and pick me up in her Coup Deville with weather like this going on out there. She was skittish of driving even in sunshine, in daylight wearing her flat soled shoes and her Daddy’s blessing.  I sighed sorrowfully. Ella Fitzgerald’s sweet voice rang through the kitchen, across the foyer and down into my soul “I’m growing so tired of living alone, I lie awake all night and cry. Nobody loves me, that’s why. “

“Now what’ve I done with my pink flappers?” I yelled into the sitting room, to no-one in particular. My flappers, my favorite high-heeled pink shoes with wispy, sparklingPink flappers fur around the toes, I knew would boost my spirits and pull me out of my stormy day gloom. My mother had coined their nickname when she’d said I looked like a cheap flapper when I pulled them out of the bag I’d brought home from the consignment store. In defiance, I wore them every day after that.  What they lacked in class they made up for in confidence. I liked them a little more every time I slid the pink tufts of fur over my feet.  Besides the heels made my legs look longer, curvier, and somehow, they miraculously made me an amazing dancer. Boys were even starting to fight for me as their partner on Saturday nights at the Metro, the public dance hall on the edge of town. My mother thought my pink fluffy flappers made me look cheap- but when I wore them I felt like a modern-day Cinderella.

I pushed aside a dusty curtain hanging from the arch of the living room window. Not there. I bent down and stretched my neck sideways to peek underneath the oval glass inside the coffee table. Not there. Hadn’t I kicked them off here, last night, in the foyer? It had been dark, it was after 2 a.m. when I crept in like a thief in the night, hoping no-one was up waiting with listening ears.  I knew I’d catch hell if Dorie heard me come in and ratted me out. I could have taken them up to my room in a sleepy, party-dazed stupor and forgotten. So I crept up one flight of creaky wooden stairs to have a look. As I rounded the second story corner to my room, I noticed my sister’s door slightly open and I’ll be damned if those pink shoes weren’t lying right there at the end of her bed.

“Dorie!” I screamed. A stoic silence came from her room. So I blasted open the door hoping she’d be there on her bed and I’d startle her, reading her silly teen magazines.  But her room was empty, no trace of her except for her pale pink raincoat lying in a sad, dripping heap on the upholstered chair in the corner. The sight of it, for some reason made me glum, and my anger dwindled. I swiped my shoes from the floor and went out quietly, closing the door behind me. I stood in the hallway outside the second-story bedrooms balancing on one foot, then the other as I pulled on my beloved shoes. I continued down the hall to the small bathroom I shared with my sister, my flappers clicking cheerfully on the wood floor. My mood lightened a little. I pulled open the bottom vanity drawer and searched for my new tube of bright red lipstick I’d hidden last week. I dug for what seemed like forever through the drawer, but all I found were discarded plastic eye-shadow containers and lids from lost tubes of lip liner.

“Darn it all,” I said reaching one more time into the furthest reaches of the drawer. What could be more annoying than losing two of my favorite things in less than 10 minutes? But I was determined to force myself into a better mood so I found a tube of rose-colored lipstick instead and leaned in close to the mirror, slowly tracing the outline of my lips. I smacked my lips in satisfaction. Pink lipstick couldn’t hurt. Suddenly, as I stood there studying myself in the mirror, a noiseless shadow passed in the hall. I peeked out, hoping to catch Dorie sneaking into her room and give her a piece of my mind about stealing my shoes.  But she wasn’t there. I stretched my neck to see her bedroom doorway, still half open.  As I straightened my back and turned to face the mirror, suddenly a figure appeared behind me: A little creep a head shorter than me with her back to the mirror, her long, black hair hanging in damp clumps against her back. I jumped a little and shrieked, still looking at the creepy, faceless reflection of stringy black hair.

“Good hell, Dorie! That’s just plain not funny!” My sister said nothing, but slowly turned toward the mirror. Black streams of mascara dripped down her pale face, streaking her delicate cheekbones. Her wet clothes clung to her shivering body. She stared stoically into the mirror. I shuddered involuntarily at her wraithlike image.

“What’s wrong love?” I said, gathering my wits, and turned to face her. And for a moment I thought I had lost my mind, or was in the midst of a fervid dream, or had one too many margaritas at the dance hall last night…because she was gone.

A shiver of fear passed through my bones. What on earth? I glanced around the bathroom one more time and out into the hall to make sure no one had been trying to play a trick on me. All I heard were a few notes of jazz drifting up from the kitchen radio. How had she disappeared from my sight so quickly? Or had I imagined it? Maybe this moody October storm was getting to me a little more than I thought.

I looked back into the mirror with some trepidation, and saw that the color had drained from my face. My ashen skin and the bewildered look on my face reminded me of the uncanny appearance of my sister, and it forced me to look away. Suddenly I felt very alone. I decided to go down to the kitchen, where I knew Mama was pressing dough for pot pies or brewing a giant pot of beef stew. The kitchen windows would be all steamed up and dripping with condensation. The warmth and homey aroma of dinner cooking would seep into my cold soul and then I’d feel better. I flipped off the bathroom light and clicked downstairs without looking over my shoulder.

In the kitchen, all the lights were on; the white one hanging over the kitchen table, the small Stove-and-windowone over the stove, even the lamp in the corner where Dad had spent most evenings reading the newspaper before he died. A pot of cold unboiled, water sat on the stove. A single silver spoon rested on the counter nearby.  But there was nothing in the oven, no ingredients had been strewn out over the counter, and my Mother was nowhere to be seen. The only sign of life was the radio, playing a spirited trumpet player’s version of “It had to be you.”

I rubbed at the goosebumps on my arms and decided to make myself a cup of tea. I pulled my stash of Lavender chamomile tea bags from the cupboard over the counter and pulled Mama’s teapot from the cupboard beside the stove. I peered through rows of mismatched drinking glasses to find the delicate, fluted teacup painted with violets that Dorie and I always fought over. I sort of wished she was here now, arguing that she had as much right to my Grandmother’s tea set as I did; that I always assumed I had more rights because I was the older sister. As I thought about her, and the strange state I had seen her in earlier, I glanced again around the kitchen and saw something that took my breath away. All of the cupboard doors were open. Had they been that way when I walked in, and if so why hadn’t I noticed?

Again, I looked around for Dorie- who had been known in her younger days for playing practical jokes. She wasn’t there, the kitchen was completely empty. In fact, as I looked around again, something other than the room’s sheer emptiness that struck me. It was cold and…lifeless.  The kitchen seemed completely devoid of human touch- as if no human soul had lingered there for days, weeks even.

I turned on the stove and sunk down into Daddy’s old chair with a sigh. I knew there had to be an explanation for the unusual events of the afternoon, but for some reason my mind just couldn’t conjure up what it might be. In fact, when I tried to remember whether I had even seen Mama that morning, I couldn’t remember. Had I woke up as usual and took the bus to my typing class at the community college? Or was it Saturday? Had my sister, Mama and I eaten our usual wheat-scones and orange-spice tea around the table at breakfast, or maybe I had overslept and crept down in my bathrobe and slippers. I had no recollection of the morning. The last thing I remembered was looking for my shoes in the foyer.’

What was wrong with me? Was I losing my mind? I sat there in my late Daddy’s leather chair for what seemed like an eternity, trying to untangle the murky events in my subconscious.

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Mistaken Identity

Hello Fire Fans,

This is a piece which I started so long ago that I barely remember writing it. This is really in a Fragment Friday vein, but I’m part owner of this blog so I’ll go ahead and do what I want.

I like the characters in this piece and I think I’m going to continue on with it one day.

Your writing prompt for today is this. Go through your old folders, find something you wrote, either one that you like and want to continue, or one that you despise that needs adjustment.  Add something, a description, dialogue, a whole scene…anything. Your old pieces deserve attention too.

Mistaken Identitybookstore

Sharon heard a woman’s voice calling “Ann, Ann!” She continued to look through the pages of a novel, killing time until she could pick up her daughter from dance class. “Ann! Ann!” the woman continued to call.

I wonder why Ann doesn’t answer, she thought to herself.

Sharon felt a tap on her shoulder and turned to find at a tiny woman wearing a tattered brown coat over a baggy purple T-shirt and faded jeans.

“Ann, I’ve been calling you and calling you. You always get so wrapped up in your books. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. How have you been?”

Shocked and embarrassed, Sharon opened her mouth to tell her that she must be mistaken, but before she could utter a word, the short, ragged looking woman continued.

“I’ve waited for your phone call. I thought I had done something to make you angry. You know, ever since Hank died it seems I spend a lot of time waiting for that old phone to ring.”

heart coffeeThe woman nervously pulled on her coat, conscious that it was out of style, worn and dirty. She laughed anxiously and said, “What are you doing right now? There’s a coffee shop right here in the store, would you like a cup?”

Shaking her head, Sharon intended, again, to tell her that she was not Ann. She looked into the woman’s gray eyes and was stunned by absolute loneliness. In that moment, she became lost in a stranger’s sorrow.

“I think you bought the coffee last time.” Sharon said, “Why don’t you let me buy this cup?”

 

Fragment Friday: The Song That Set Her Free

As you may recall, Natalie and I participated in a community project to help support the arts in our local schools.

Natalie has shared her play with you, and I thought that I would share part of mine for Fragment Friday. There are a lot of things that I want to change in this 10 minute play. I see a lot of holes, character flaws and it may be a little over dramatic.

But it’s mine.

I took my writing and put it on display for strangers to see. I do that weekly with this blog. However, it is one thing to imagine readers sitting at their computer screen, it is quite another to have your words, actions, and ideas put on display in front of a living, breathing audience.

I sat in anonymity watching the play unfold before the spectators. It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. The actors were outstanding. The director got to the heart of the matter in the play. And I? I felt as if there were a flashing light above my head, and yet, at the same time, completely invisible as I sat there with a group of people who did not know, that I was the playwright. I saw open, raw reaction. Looking back, I’m still amazed that I did it.

The play was taken from a piece of flash fiction which I wrote for the blog. I’ve since removed the piece because I’d like to work on it without having it…out. (Writers sometimes have strange relationships with their work.)

As always, comments, ideas, and feedback are welcome.

Now, on with the show….

The Song That Set Her Free

By Lori King

Leah: A traditional housewife and mother

Marty: A husband, an up and coming Lawyer

Jessica: Leah and Marty’s oldest daughter (age 11)

Patrick: Their second child (age 6)

Mary: Their third child (age 3)

Anne: Leah’s best friend

The Song That Set Her Free

(Leah, dressed in a full skirt and heels, is standing stage right, at a stove in a modest kitchen, flipping pancakes in the early morning. There is a table center stage fully set for breakfast. Five chairs surround the table. There is a laundry hamper, ironing board and some shelves stage right, down stage from the stove. A notebook and pen sit on the shelf among some other books. There is a sink upstage from the table and a box of laundry detergent sits next to it. Stage left and down stage sits a wooden rocking chair and a bar stool.)

MARTY:

(Enters stage right in a bathrobe and slippers. A towel is draped over his arm. His hair is messy. He yawns.)

Good morning. Are the kids still in bed?

LEAH:

I was just about to call them.

MARTY:

I have to get to work early today. We have a client first thing. Maybe I should just eat…

LEAH:

Marty, we don’t get very much family time because you’re so busy…

MARTY:

Okay, okay….but I’ve got to leave early so you’d better get them up.

(Marty exits stage left and the sound of a shower is heard. He begins to sing.)

LEAH:

Jessica? Jessica? It’s time to get up. Can you get your brother and sister dressed?

JESSICA:

(Enters stage right fully dressed.)

Yeah, mom.

I was already awake. I’ve been reading. Have you ever read Jane Eyre?

LEAH:

Yes! I loved it when I was your age!

JESSICA:

I love it! But Mr. Rochester seems mean.

LEAH:

Just keep reading. You’ll end up loving him. Now, please hurry and get the other kids up. Can you have them wash their face and hands? Daddy will be out of the shower in a minute and we’re going to sit down to breakfast.

JESSICA:

Sure Mom.

(Jessica exits stage right)

LEAH:

(Leah quickly finishes preparing for breakfast and begins to set out all of the food on the table.)

MARTY:

(Enters stage left, clean cut and shaved, dressed in a business suit.)

What’s for breakfast?

LEAH:

Pancakes, eggs, bacon and some fresh berries.

MARTY:

The pancakes are going to be cold before we eat. You should have gotten the kids up earlier.

LEAH:

(Sighs)

 I know. They’ll be here in a minute.

(She pours milk into glasses as they wait for the children to join them.)

(The children enter stage right noisily arguing about where to sit. A glass of milk gets spilled as they sit.)

MARTY:

Leah…

(He gestures to the mess on the table in disgust.)

LEAH:

(Hurries to wipe up the mess and calmly gets the children seated and the children begin to eat.)

MARTY:

Can I get some coffee?

(He shakes a coffee cup in Leah’s direction.)

LEAH:

(Hurries to fill the coffee cup, and speaks to the children periodically. Coaxing them to eat, to stay clean, to mind their manners as she cuts pancakes into bite size pieces for her youngest.)

Do you know what time you’ll be home from work?

MARTY:

Leah. It just depends on how long it takes. If I have a client come in late, I’ll be home late.

LEAH:

Will you call if you’re going to be late?

MARTY:

I will if I remember.

LEAH:

Does Kathleen stay with you when you stay late?

MARTY:

Of course she does, she’s my assistant.

LEAH:

I don’t like the way she talks to you.

MARTY:

This again, Leah? It’s nothing. It’s just the way she IS. She’s like that with everyone.

LEAH:

Well, ‘everyone’ isn’t my husband. You are.

MARTY:

What do you want me to do? She’s a valuable asset to the firm. I’m not going to fire her. You worry too much. We’re a busy firm; we need an assistant. That’s all there is to it. Speaking of, I’d better get out the door. I need to get to work.

(He wipes his mouth on a napkin, kisses the kids and begins to walk stage right. Before he exits he turns back.)

Tomorrow I’m going bowling with Hank. Can you make sure my bowling shirt is clean?

LEAH:

I’ll wash it right after breakfast.

MARTY:

Don’t forget. Last week I smelled like old socks.

(He grins at her and exits stage right.)

LEAH: (sighs) Okay kiddos. Let’s get breakfast cleaned up so that we can get to the park, okay?

(The children begin to assemble their dishes and carry them to the kitchen sink. Leah takes a shirt from the hamper, goes to the sink and begins to scrub laundry detergent into a stain.)

 THE SCENE ENDS

(Leah is sitting at the table with her best friend Anne. Two cups of coffee sit on the table. Several children play quietly stage left.)

LEAH:

I don’t know Anne. It’s just a feeling I get. He’ll never support me doing anything outside the house.

ANNE:

Leah, you put him through school, you gave him three kids, you fix his meals, you clean his clothes. He will be alright if you take some time to yourself. He can take care of the kids for one or two nights a week.

LEAH:

But he’s never done it before and he has such a short temper with the younger ones. He’ll put a lot of pressure on Jessica if I’m gone.

ANNE:

Give him a chance. Just tell him what you want.

LEAH:

I don’t think he’ll care.

ANNE:

Why don’t you tell me what you want? Maybe it will help you clarify it with Marty.

LEAH:

(takes a deep breath)

When I was in high school, Mr. Hammond, my English teacher, told me I should write. He loved my stories and encouraged me to submit some of my work to magazines. I published a few short stories and won a few competitions. It felt wonderful! When I was writing, I felt like I was fulfilling a purpose, like I was communicating from my soul. I want to do it again. I want to start writing!

ANNE:

Leah, you deserve to do this! When you tell Marty, he’s going to ask you how you’re going to do it because you’re both so busy.

LEAH:

If he can watch the kids for two nights a week, I’d be able to get a lot of writing done. I could get dinner on the table and then go to the library for a couple hours. It wouldn’t take long before I had a few stories to send in, or even a book. I just need two nights a week.

ANNE:

That doesn’t sound like a lot to ask.

LEAH:

He’d have to clean up dinner.

ANNE:

It wouldn’t hurt him. He’s a grown man. He can clean up after himself and his children a couple of nights a week.

LEAH:

But what about Jessica?

ANNE:

She’ll be okay. Just make sure Marty knows that HE needs to be the one who takes care of things. He can’t just sit and read his paper. He needs to help her. If you set up a schedule, the rest of the family can pitch in to help.

LEAH:

I don’t know. It’s time for my children to begin to pursue their dreams. The time to pursue mine has already passed. Jessica loves to sing. I want her to keep doing that if her heart tells her she should. The time for me to make the decision to write a novel was made when I said ‘I do’ to Marty. He will never support me in this. Some decisions we make are permanent.

ANNE:

(thinks for a moment and then replies)

Leah, how are you going to teach your children to go after their dreams if you don’t go after yours?

LEAH:

(Looking over at the children as they play.)

I can’t, can I.

ANNE:

Just tell him. He’ll hear you out.

LEAH:

I hope so.

END SCENE

Fragment Friday – Cats and Dogs

Happy Friday Firefans!

In the spirit of a late summer weekend…

Today I decided to share something that I wrote simply because…are you ready? It makes me happy. Yes. Writers can be happy too.

I don’t think this story is epic. I don’t think have any delusions that the writing here is stellar. The plot is light and probably predictable. And I haven’t spent hours obsessing over it or become an existential train wreck because of it or its origins.

I started it as part of a prompt for a short story contest. I ended up missing the deadline, but was so in love with the premise that I decided I’d keep it on file and go back to it someday.  I love the characters and the possible scenarios of what might happen between them. I love the setting and the story and the animals and the slightly askew yet amiable small-town ideals.

This story is something that I often forget writing is supposed to be: FUN. Yes! Did you know, our group has lots and lots and lots of fun? We do! Even though of late, we haven’t shown that side of ourselves here.

And yes, you called it. You know me well. There is, of course, music that goes with this scene. See? More fun!  Unfortunately this artist is so up-and-coming you can’t find the song on YouTube. So you’ll need Spotify to play it. (Emerging writers supporting emerging artists. That’s how we roll here at WTF.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

~C

(here’s the song)

* * *

Cats and Dogs ~ Chapter One, Opening Scene

Lizzie sat on the window ledge, pulled back the lace curtain and peered outside. Squinting, she surveyed the contents of the black convertible in the driveway next door: A camera, a map, and several brown boxes filled with books. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that satisfied any suspicions of either normalcy or scandal.

Gracie, with her little orange tail pointed straight up, jumped onto the window ledge and boldly nosed her way through the curtain. Lizzie took the kitten into her lap and pulled back the lace. She didn’t want to be accused of spying. And anyway she wasn’t spying, really. That would be perfectly ridiculous.lace curtains

Mary, the librarian was the first in town to spread the news: Nathan McDaniel, the famous and recently divorced romance novelist was moving to the seaside town of Trinity Cove. Lizzie couldn’t have cared less about it, until she heard Mary casually mention that he was buying the house next door.

She’d had to sell literally hundreds of her murals to save for the down payment on her 1906 Victorian cottage, and in the three years she’d lived there, she’d been working her fingers to the bone to restore and maintain its charm.  She was near certain a celebrity author was not going to appreciate the historic character of the neighborhood. Nor was she sure that she wanted an egotistical, overpaid, overindulged, celebrity romance writer living next door.

She had read a few of Nate McDaniel’s books, or she’d tried anyway, and she couldn’t help finding his writing bland and overly cliché. She’d rolled her eyes at the way his books followed such a formulaic plot, young Caucasians in love and separated or unrequited in mind-numbingly stereotypical ways. She was sure he hadn’t a clue the way people really felt, or talked, or acted when they were smitten over someone. And maybe she was no expert, but she was pretty sure that real people didn’t act like the cardboard cutouts he seemed to use as inspiration for his characters.

moving truckShe straightened her spine and watched cautiously as a slender man with tousled, walnut-colored hair appeared behind the truck with a handcart, wearing a dress shirt rolled to the elbows and loose-fitting jeans. He pulled a few medium-sized boxes down and stacked them on the cart, then put his hands behind his head, stretched and gazed with a warm smile around neighborhood. Lizzie ducked behind the curtain.

That’s Nathan McDaniel?” She said out loud without meaning to. Gracie mewed in response, butting her head against Lizzie’s arm. She stroked the kitten’s soft fur absentmindedly and peeked out again. The man was effortlessly lifting giant boxes down and stacking them in neat rows. Strange. She had pictured him older, heavier, messier, more… bookish: Sweater cardigan, squishy abdomen, double chin, withered cigar hanging over a five-o-clock shadow. Not that she’d spent any time thinking about it, but wasn’t that what middle-aged romance novelists usually looked like? She pulled back the lace again and leaned forward slightly to get a better view.

After a long bout of silent staring, a horrible thud, followed by a clawing, scratching noise brought Lizzie back into focus and painfully aware that she’d been resting her forehead against the glass. Damn. She was caught. The man in the driveway jerked his head in the direction of Lizzie’s front window.

Gracie dug her claws into Lizzie’s thighs and before she had a chance to cry out in pain, a giant, jet-black, slobbery face appeared at the window. The horrible creature barked so loud, Lizzie felt the window vibrate. Gracie clawed her way across Lizzie’s right arm and dashed under the sofa.

“What on earth was that awful thing?” Lizzie whimpered, rubbing the tiny scratches on her thigh.The doorbell chimed.

She froze, thinking briefly of her ripped shorts, paint-splattered shirt, and the dirty-blonde strands of hair falling out of the messy bun on top of her head.  She closed her eyes and hoped that the quiet meant whomever was at the door had gone. But a friendly knock- with a little more-than-the-usual enthusiasm broke into the silence.

Lizzie took a deep breath and made her way to the door, opening it with slow trepidation.

Top Ten Prompts to Inspire Creative Writing

If you’re a writer, an artist, musician or creative soul of any kind you’ve probably had those days when you just can’t produce anything worth… anything. The harder you try, the less effective you become and you get yourself into a ridiculously concrete mental block. It’s tough to pull yourself out of this phenomenon, and many times the feeling has negative effects in the rest of your life too.

As writers, we’ve found that completing writing prompts not only helps us get a fresh perspective in our writing, they open our minds in a myriad of other ways. The mental fog clears, and suddenly there are windows where there were once only walls.

These prompts our a few of our group’s favorites– and a few have even turned into some of our most beloved pieces. Give them a try, let us know how it goes, and we might even feature your response as a guest post!

Happy writing,

~C

10- They told her not to open the box…

9- You’re walking along a crowded street and an old woman hands you a brown paper bag. You take it from her and feel that it’s slightly weighted by whatever is inside. She smiles and disappears into the crowd. What is inside the bag, and what does it mean to you?

8-  This picture:

St. Etienne - Muse

7- Think of a character, either from a story you’re writing or a book you’ve read.  He/she has a favorite pair of shoes. Why are they special? Where did they come from? Where does he/she wear them? What stories go along with those shoes?

6- You wake up locked inside a closed coffin. Explain your initial reaction, how you attempt to escape, and what you remember about how you got there.

5- Find and buy (or take a picture of) an object at a thrift store, and write a short story or a scene around it. Below are some examples of objects we’ve used:

Vintage radiovintage gray tub

red high heelsrose colored glasses

4- You and your friends take a three mile hike up to a campsite and you’re sitting around the fire toasting marshmallows. Out of the blue one of your friends reveals a secret that turns your pleasant camping trip into a total nightmare…

3- Write a few paragraphs explaining how this picture came about, or what it represents:(image courtesy of www.vladstudio.com)

2- Write a story from the perspective of the family pet. The family is bringing home a new baby, going through a divorce, recently lost a loved one, the children are starting school, or they are moving across the country.

1- As a person or thing that inspires all your creativity and new ideas, your muse has been trying to contact you. Write a conversation between you and your muse. There are no limitations as to what he/she/it is, appears, or looks like. What does your muse want you to know? What is your reaction?

Fragment Friday – The Yellow Balloon

“It’s okay, baby. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Through the rear-view mirror, Julie could just see a corner of Lily’s tiny red face. The baby’s hands trembled, irate at being trapped in the confines of her car seatbaby crying rear view.  Julie inhaled slowly and made a soft, rhythmic shushing sound at her daughter’s cries. She slowly turned up the volume on the car’s CD player.  The deep, lilting voice of a cello sent notes of Bach’s Prelude in G Major over the beige leather seats.  Julie rolled her neck around slowly and it snapped back at her with angry tension.  She’d never expected her first day back at work to have gone so terribly wrong. She’d walked into a raging wildfire- one that had been going on without her for months, one that Jason Hunt fully expected her to have solved in the first few hours of her return. And then on the phone, in tears, in the parking lot she’d snapped at Gabe, for not understanding the absurdity of it all. Thirty minutes later she’d walked into the sitter’s to find her baby crying furious, and hungry.  She’s been like this all day, the young blonde had said, trying to disguise the potency of impatience in her voice. Julie rubbed at her temples as she slowed the car to a stop at the intersection. Lily’s screams had subsided and were replaced by intermittent, exhausted sobs.

“It’s okay, Lil,” she made her voice low, intentional and calm, mimicking the cello. “Everything’s going to be okay.”  Did she keep saying that for Lily, or for herself?  She gazed at the faded red of the stoplight. Filtered sunlight beamed across the gray asphalt and reached across the sidewalk, toward a row of red-brick, 1920’s bungalows. Drifting above the delicate leaf patterns on the street, a wraith-like shape drifted into the scene. A small yellow balloon floated into the intersection, pulling a tattered white string behind it like an unwilling captive.

Julie stared, entranced by the movement of the balloon- the way it swayed and dipped serendipitously. It moved across the street in almost deliberate motion. The stoplight changed. Julie did not move her foot from the brake. She kept staring. Somewhere in her mind an alarm 1920s bungalows live oakswas going off.  Something inside her was urging her to take action.  But the movement of the balloon had become so intensely clear that she could scarcely realize any of her other senses. Having seen the balloon float across half of the intersection, her eyes drifted to the far corner on the opposite side. A young Hispanic man and a tiny, brunette toddler girl stood at the street sign. Julie studied the pink and white pinstripes on the girls dress. The child’s cropped brunette hair swept across her chin when she turned her head.  Julie noticed the soft smile that moved over the father’s lips as the child pointed to the balloon. And the blank absoluteness of the change that came over his face when the child dashed into the street. She wanted to scream out. But as if trapped inside a dream, when she opened her mouth she had no voice. She watched, struck motionless in disbelief. A giant, white moving truck moved under the stoplight opposite her. Blurred streaks of white, red, silver and black flashed into the faded sunlight. The smoking rubber of tires smeared a horrible, black streak across the asphalt. A fringe of brown hair swept across a heart-shaped face. A red hand jutted into the center of the chaos. The demon screeching of metal into metal. The eerie, rain-like shattering of broken glass. Julie stared, frozen into the disaster, frozen into time. She felt a surging heaviness in the atmosphere- time being heaved to a stop. Like when Lily was born.

Julie loosened her hands from the steering wheel and stepped, trembling into the street. Her heart pounded loud in her ears. The back end of the truck had completely taken out the front end of a blue sedan. The driver sat motionless in his seat.  She couldn’t remember getting out of the car,  but felt herself moving toward the collision. She stared at the space where she’d last seen the balloon. And then…a sudden movement came from beneath it. An arm reached out onto the street. Life. Limbs. Hope. Love. Noise. A cry.  A child’s cry. Suddenly Julie could feel herself breathing, her heart pulsing out blood to her fingers and toes, the tightness of skin around her cheeks, the way her tongue felt against the back of her teeth. It was the first time in 34 years she had ever been aware of being inside of her life.yellow balloon in trees

The yellow balloon bumped across the rounded curb and upward into the low crooks of a towering live oak, tangling its captive string into the reaching arc of branches.

Reading the Fire

The importance of reading has been brought to my attention several times over the past week. As Cindy mentioned in her post, it is essential for those of us who write to be among people who read and it is a desirable quality in a spouse. But I believe that it is an important aspect for our culture as well as individuals.

There are two things that have stuck in my mind over the past week that underline the reasons we should read.

First, one of my children has been struggling with reading and just made a break through. It was like it finally all made sense to him, and he came to me one morning excited, “Mom! I read it!” He handed me a book which he has been trying to read on his own for a couple of months. “It’s about a cowboy…” He followed me around the house during morning chores and told me about what he had read, how he had felt, why he liked the cowboy and how excited he was to continue reading.

It was all I could do to keep the tears from flowing down my cheeks. This is how I felt about reading and my son had suddenly discovered the perfect contentment contained in a good book. He can now be taken to faraway lands while lying in his bed. He can discover the meaning of love before he even starts dating. He can be introduced to the beauty of the world through the eyes of authors who are aware of it. He can learn what it means to be a man of value. He can discover compassion within his heart for people who are different through the characters found in books.

This is what reading has done for me, my family, and my fellow group members. I couldn’t be happier and more excited to discuss books with him and hear his perspective.

The next thing happened in our writing class last week, our teacher said, “Illiteracy within a culture means that culture lacks imagination.” I find this to be true in the people around me whether it is actual illiteracy or willful illiteracy, where a person chooses to turn their back on the other worlds that books offer, the outcome is the same. Without imagination, we would not have innovation, invention, creativity, or exploration. Imagination drives our soul, the very thing that makes us human.

And so in the spirit of keeping imagination alive, I’ve started a list of books which have changed my life, changed the way I look at things, scared the h— out of me, given me great pleasure, distilled the beauty of life on my heart, or simply made me laugh.

Please comment! Add your books to the list! Let’s keep imagination alive!

Fiction:

  1. You Are Special by Max Lucado
  2. If Only I Had a Green Nose by Max Lucadomy library
  3. You Are Mine by Max Lucado
  4. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  5. Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling
  6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  7. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  8. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  10. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery
  11. The Lonesome Gods by Louis L’Amour (I’m not a western type of girl, but I love Johannes Verne. “My name is Johannes Verne and I am not afraid.”)
  12. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  13. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede
  14. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  15. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  16. The Railway Children By Edith Nesbit
  17. The Fairy Books by Andrew Lang (Some purists don’t the like the fairy stories in these books but I love them! My favorite two are the Blue Fairy Book and the Yellow Fairy Book.)
  18. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  19. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  20. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
  21. Anything by Shel Silverstein especially The Giving Tree (great way to introduce your children to poetry)
  22. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (My favorite is The Last Battle)
  23. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  24. The Legend of
  25. Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  26. Holes by Louis Sachar
  27. The Great Brain by John Dennis Fitzgerald
  28. Little Britches by Ralph Moody
  29. The Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
  30. Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  31. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  32. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
  33. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  34. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Lewis Stevenson
  35. Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  36. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  37. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienLord of the Rings
  38. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  39. Anything by Jane Austen (My favorites are Mansfield Park, Northanger Abby, and Pride and Prejudice.)
  40. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
  41. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (When I read this book in high school it was about friendship, as an adult I think it’s a book about parenting. I love multi-faceted books like that!)
  42. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  43. The Old Man and the Sea by Earnest Hemingway (I don’t like Hemingway, but loved this book and the short story listed below.)
  44. The Writing Class by Jincy Willet (I love the protagonist in this novel! She reminds me of ME in parts.)
  45. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  48. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (You’ll be suspicious of everyone’s intentions for a while.)

My Favorite Shakespeare:

  1. The Merchant of Venice
  2. A Midsummer night’s Dream

Non-Fiction:

  1. The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer
  2. Backyard Ballistics by William Gurstelle (My husband and son LOVE this book. I mean, who wouldn’t love building a tennis ball mortar out of Pringles cans?)
  3. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
  4. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout (Will confirm everything you believe after reading Heart of Darkness)
  5. Emotional Vampires by Dr. Albert Bernstein
  6. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  7. The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis
  8. The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis
  9. Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner

Short stories:

  1. The Judges House by Brahms Stoker (Don’t read it in the dark.)
  2. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
  3. The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe
  4. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe
  5. The Gold Bug by Edgar Allen Poe
  6. Hills Like White Elephants by Earnest Hemingway (I hate The American, but I LOVE that this story can be interpreted many ways.)
  7. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (Chilling.)

Poetry: (I enjoy poetry, but I’m not well versed in it. There are, however, a few that I adore.)

  1. The Oxford Book of American Light Verse is a good place to start.
  2. A Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  3. If by Rudyard Kipling
  4. Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer
  5. The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes
  6. Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  7. I love Eugene Field and his poetry for my children.

Upcoming books that I’ll be reading in the next couple of months:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
  4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  5. The Color of Water by James McBride

Okay, so there it is. What about you? What books have changed you? What stories do you LOVE?