Flash Fiction Challenge #8 (Something New)

flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.



Flash Fiction Challenge #5 (Chocolate)

Chocolate-CityI’m starting to get used to writing short fiction again, and I’m reminded of why I’ve always loved it so much in the first place. Short fiction is a chance to get down and dirty with characters, with plots, and with the development of both, without getting too attached because I know they’re going to be gone soon. If I want to kill them off I can without too much thought of consequence, unlike what goes on when I write novels.

However, there are limitations to short fiction that are obvious as well. Because I don’t get to know my characters quite as much I’m not as invested in them. These days my short stories only last as long as the situation that I’ve set up lasts, not until the characters die or a resolution is achieved.

Once I wrote a short fictive piece about a man at a New Year’s Eve party who suddenly realizes that public holidays and functions are merely constructs, and he’s struck by how meaningless most of life becomes when you look at it that way. The entire story takes place inside of his head, and exists only in the battle between what he’s known and what he’s finally figured out.

I like that short story because it proves a story can live through its use of metaphor and inner conflict. I decided I want to do something like that again with this one. I’ll remind you of the rules regarding the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Chocolate.

It’s been ten years since I took a bite of chocolate, since I let it magnificently melt in my mouth and slide sinfully down my throat for the final time, so I can look back at it with an objective eye. I can be around a Snickers bar now and not salivate obsessively over it, and not beg its owner for just a little bite, and not offer my body in exchange for a hit of the good stuff.

If there was a 12-step group for chocolate lovers I would probably have been its first member, dutifully standing up in front of my cacao loving peers and proclaiming that I have a problem. That’s what we call it these days when an obsession interferes with our normal lives, driving us from the ranks of those who love something to those who are in love with something. It’s no different from any other addiction, not from nicotine, or alcohol, or sex. Chocolate, to me, was all those things rolled into one.

So I had to quit. Cold turkey.

I knew that slowly weaning myself off the good stuff was never going to work for me. It’s a slippery slope when it comes to addiction because it’s easy to say all the right things, and even to believe them, but when it comes to putting them into practice the addiction simply calls out. And we answer. I had tried for years to quit, had told myself I was going to cut back. But cutting back was difficult when it was in the house. Living by myself was the real killer because there was no one there to keep me to my promise. If the chocolate was in my apartment I was going to devour it. I was going to keep going back to the beast and sucking the marrow off of its bones.

So I did quit, and I did it on a Sunday in August, when the temperature was eighty-five, just hot enough for M&Ms to melt in my hand, tattooing me with sweet circles of chocolatey goodness that I always licked clean after. But on that day I didn’t have M&Ms. All I had was my willpower, which had never been enough before, but I knew something had to change. I had read all of the documentation. I had seen all the articles. Chocolate was a cruel task master that had turned me into its slave. It was time I broke free of the shackles that had claimed me so long ago.

But my friends weren’t supportive. They looked at me like I was a little slow on the uptake. They were of the opinion that chocolate can’t be evil because chocolate is so heavenly. It’s obvious they were never tempted to over-indulge. Some people don’t have addictive personalities, so they could never understand mine, and my friends were this way. Eventually they learned to refrain from eating chocolate around me, from indulging in their chocolate drinks, and from discussing the glory of the chocolate infused lifestyles they chose to live.

I began to get the chocolate sweats, the nervous shaking of my hands and arms that indicated that I was going cold turkey. I had counted on the nerves, but not the extent to which they disturbed my life. I had to call out sick from the office, and I imagined my cubicle cold and sterile, waiting for me to return and claim it from oblivion. But I also thought of the chocolate I had stored in my bottom drawer for emergencies. I had missed it on my sweep through, when I first decided to just eliminate chocolate from my diet, to crush its hold over me.

The drawer was my final temptation, the final hurdle I would have to leap before I could legitimately lay claim to being sober. My sister helped me bag up all the chocolate at my apartment, and I have to say she was appalled at the sheer volume that dominated such a small space. I had two giant bags of Snickers, a case of M&Ms, a chocolate cake I had just baked the night before, two huge tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer, and an 8-pack of Oreos in my kitchen. The rest of the apartment was no slouch in that department either. In the end she helped me lug seven trash bags worth of chocolate to the local food kitchen. Even they were surprised that it all came from one solitary individual.

That was ten years ago, though, and even though it was quite the process that counts as ancient history now. Sometimes I eat out with friends, and they order something with chocolate in it, but I’m not moved to tears anymore. I’m not hanging on the edge of my seat drooling all over them. I no longer get the chocolate sweats, and I taped off my bottom drawer at work ages ago so even it doesn’t draw me in like it did. I still go to the 12-step meetings in my mind, introducing myself about once a month to the addicts still living in my brain.

I’m happy to admit that chocolate is no longer the anchor weighing me down. I no longer feel so much pain from the forced separation. Just like other addicts, though, I’ll never truly be over the addiction. I just need to stay vigilant, to keep my life goals in mind, and none of them include eating a pound of chocolate a day and hating myself for it afterwards. But damn, it sure would be nice to have a 3 Musketeers bar. Or twenty.


Flash Fiction Challenge #4 (Renovate)

RenovationIt’s funny how I hadn’t really written a proper short story in a while before this challenge. I guess I got caught up in writing and editing a novel, and now a second one in progress, so the longer pieces consumed all of my time. I remember a time when it was opposite, and sometimes I miss that time, but this blog helps me stay connected to the world of smaller pieces of writing.

But this challenge is a whole other ball of wax, if I do say so myself. I’ve never been one to stick to challenges set forth by others, and yet I find I’m fascinated by the way these pieces of flash fiction come to me fully formed and I am just their conduit to share on here. With that being said, watch this most recent one isn’t quite as easy or as organic as the first three.

Regardless, I am staying the course, and I’m still excited to see what comes out of my brain this time. As a reminder, here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge:

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Renovate.

The attic had been off limits for as long as Caitlin Raye could recall, the trapdoor leading to it hemmed in by a pair of sturdy 2x4s nailed through with spikes that could have held Jesus aloft on the cross. She had asked her father if she could use it as a bedroom several times over the years, but his response had always been a noncommittal “we’ll see.” If there was anything Caitlin knew with certainty, it was that his “we’ll see” meant “not a chance.”

But the attic was so appealing to her, probably precisely because it had always been off limits. When she was little she imagined ghosts lived up there, that they had their own ghosts music, and hosted other ghosts at ghost parties. As she had gotten older, though, she realized that floor of their house was probably off limits because it was unsafe, and her father was too much of a cheapskate to have the floor redone so it was sturdier. So he kept it boarded up and said “we’ll see” instead of ponying up the dough to renovate it.

Caitlin religiously watched HGTV, though, the channel for house related endeavors, so she knew there was still hope for her dreams of eventually inhabiting the attic. Her favorite program was Reno from Reno, a show where Jake and Ellie Golden turned uninhabitable spaces in Reno into polished gems when they were finished. They specialized in rooms that were badly out of date, gutting them, and making them ultra-modern in their pursuit of what they termed “the perfect room.” At the end of the season viewers would vote on what room won the honor of all the ones they had completed on the show that season, and the winner would win a million bucks.

First things first, though. Caitlin knew she would have to get some unflattering shots of the inside of the attic, which meant somehow getting past the barred entrance. She was a modern girl, but not so modern that she had a chance in hell of overpowering the nailed 2x4s, so she called Joel, her on again/off again boyfriend, and told him to come over for some fun. She knew he wouldn’t come if she said anything else. Boys were all the same. By the time he arrived that afternoon her parents were both at work, so no one would interrupt them.

She had her dad’s tools spread out on her bed when Joel bounced up the stairs with his shades on and a big smile on his face. So predictable. By the time she filled him in on what he was really going to be doing the smile had faded, replaced by a hopeful look that said maybe she would owe him one. Later. The large claw hammer proved to be perfect for the job, even though it took the better part of 10 minutes just to get one of the boards off. A few minutes later the second board joined its partner on the hallway floor, and for the first time in Caitlin’s life the trapdoor to the attic was unencumbered.

The sweaty boy pulled on the rope, the door creaked open with a bit of resistance, and a rickety ladder slid from the top of the opening to the hallway floor. Joel swept her into his arms and kissed her hard just then. He tasted of pepperoni and peppermint, not entirely unpleasant, and Caitlin had been taken by surprise so it took her a moment to break the kiss. By then she was breathless, but she figured it had been worth the kiss to finally have access to the attic. She could already envision Ellie and Jake in this very hallway, with a cadre of cameramen, ready to ascend the very steps she was about to go up for the first time ever.

When she got to the top, however, the room itself proved to be a disappointment. Maybe it was always going to be, with the crushing hype that had weighed her down for years, that had turned it almost mythic in Caitlin’s mind. It ran the length of the entire upstairs, which was sizable, but there was nothing that screamed “reno” about it. There were no old touches that might have come from the ’60s, no ancient wallpaper, not even any rotting floorboards that needed to be redone. In fact, what the room most resembled was an operating room in a hospital, everything sterilized and ready for the next procedure.

Her disappointment was palpable, and immediate. She leaned against one of the three posts that continued up from downstairs and ended at the sloped ceiling, and let out a sigh that seemed to reverberate around the length of the large space. Joel, who had paused at the top of the ladder, looked about as lost as a teenage boy can look. He didn’t know what to do as he watched Caitlin fade into the beam upon which she leaned. So he took out his phone and checked his Twitter feed, hoping for another opportunity to get Caitlin alone again after whatever it was that was happening in that attic.

As she began to come out of her fog of disillusionment, though, she began to see things a bit more clearly. She started to see a way that she could use the blank slate the room presented to her advantage. Caitlin took the camera from around her neck and began snapping photos of the far corner, seeing it in her mind’s eye better than she had ever seen any place in her life. She worked her way to the center, taking shots of the beams that rose from below, the near corner, and the sloped ceiling that also held such promise.

A glance in Joel’s direction confirmed that he was doing nothing to help her, that he hadn’t even noticed her issues, and Caitlin realized he really wasn’t the guy for her. If he couldn’t sympathize with her when she was clearly in distress, what kind of future did they really have? As she continued to snap away she edited him out of the room, and out of her life. Life was too short, and she had to use her time wisely, to get ready for Jake and Ellie. The flash on her camera went off once more, and she smiled.


Flash Fiction Challenge #2 (I Didn’t Go There)

12-ParisRules of the Flash Fiction Challenge:

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Getting back to my roots has been an amazing experience already as I’ve begun to dive into this Flash Fiction Challenge. My first story was well-received, and even more important than that is the feeling I got from writing it. It’s interesting to have a topic, a prompt, that I have to work with and through, and to be able to adjust it to myself and my own style.

One of the primary reasons for my completion of the Flash Fiction Challenge is to stretch my boundaries, to dig deep into my writing resources and come up with completely different pieces of work for each challenge. I also want to keep each entry fresh, so I’m challenging myself to only look at the prompt right before I begin writing the particular challenge, then to create the piece all in one sitting.

The more difficult the challenge, the more ultimately fulfilling it will be for me in the end. To that purpose, here is entry #2: I Didn’t Go There.

I never ended up going to Paris, not with Moira anyway, which according to her means I never went to Paris. Whenever I want to bring it up I have to remind myself that I didn’t go, that three months of my life never happened. I have to shift the whole of time, to stitch together the frayed ends on either side of those months, for my own sake, and for the sake of harmony. And even though it was five years ago, the time between then and now has not gotten any easier.

There is jealousy, and then there’s whatever Moira is, but I don’t question it because questioning always leads to yelling, and I’m for smoothing everything over. That’s why I never ended up going to Paris, because to admit that would be the beginning of the end, and I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to the woman I can’t help but love. There’s just something about her that makes me want to lie early and often, to cover over all my rough spots so that I come out smooth enough for her and her world.

She couldn’t go that summer, which is what started all of the issues in the first place.

“So I know you have this amazing opportunity, but you can’t go,” she told me in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Glad to know we can talk calmly and rationally about it,” I said, my ire starting to rise, a sure sign that I was approaching the invisible line she had drawn.

“I’m just saying,” she said in that lilting voice of hers that drew me in from the start, “that you don’t really want to go without me.”

It was a statement, not a question, but I heard it the way that suited my rationalization. Truth be told, yes, I did want to go, with or without her. It was a huge opportunity for me to further my career, and to be in a truly international city at the same time, two things that weren’t exactly mutually exclusive. Yes, I was with Moira, but who was to say we would even be together past the summer, regardless of if I went.

If I had only held a crystal ball back then, or at least if I had known I would have to alter the events of that summer for more than five years, maybe then I wouldn’t have gone. Maybe. But I had no such talisman of the future, so I went, and when I got back I had to hurriedly re-script things.

First it was the photographs, of which there were many. I downloaded them to a flash drive and buried it deep in my file drawer, officially erasing every shred of Parisian memories from our shared camera. Next came the clothes, which she claimed smelled of France, of beaches that I never visited, of tours I never took, and of the Eiffel Tower at sunset. It was the only time she admitted that I went. Once the clothes were burned the trip essentially went up in flames as well.

Paris became our Bermuda triangle, and it has been so ever since. June, July, and August of five years ago have passed into the ether, have tumbled down the rabbit hole with Alice and left me breathless. My mind maintains that I went, that I enjoyed myself, that there were several women I made breathless love to on the trip, but that’s the only place any of those memories will ever exist, in my mind. Which is the one positive from the whole thing, the denial of the thing, that I need no excuse for anything I did while I was over there. While I wasn’t over there.

“You have got to go with me to Marshall’s,” Moira told me this morning while we were getting ready in our bathroom. Her hair was securely in a towel bun, and I was naked, preparing to get into the shower.

“What’s so special about Marshall’s?” I asked, not wanting to go shopping again.

“It’s not about Marshall’s,” she whined. “It’s about being with me, about wanting to spend time with me. I’m your girlfriend, and we haven’t been out in ages.”

“It takes two,” I said quietly, but she heard me anyway.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, getting heated.

“It means you should have let me go to Paris,” I spit out, and five years tumbled out along with it, five years of regret, of pain, and of a sublimation I hadn’t thought I was capable of, all out like so much vomit. “It means you should have given up something for me just once, that you should have come with me instead of standing firm against it.”

“But you never went!” she practically screamed in my face, her own getting red, the towel slipping from her hair.

“Yes, I did, and it was glorious” I said, getting into the shower and pulling the door closed behind me. I could see her silhouette through the glass shaking with sobs, but I couldn’t get out to comfort her. The time for comforting was past, along with the time for denial.

“You asshole,” she said under her breath, but I heard it just the same. There was a rustling on the other side of the glass, her towel dropped to the tile floor, and she was gone. I assumed she was heading to Marshall’s without me.

But it simply didn’t matter anymore. Our relationship was toxic. It always had been. I just hadn’t seen it because I had been so preoccupied with forcing Paris from my mind, for her sake. I hadn’t seen it because I wanted us to be something we were never meant to be. I turned on the water to drown out the cacophony in my own head. And to remember Paris instead.


Flash Fiction Challenge #1 (Candy Apple Red)

flash-fictionI started out as a short story writer. The first story I wrote was called “The Sinister Smile,” and it was constructed when I was between seventh and eighth grade. I look back at it now and I see so many holes in its construction. I see wooden, two-dimensional characters who had set ways of being that never deviated throughout the piece. It was less than 1000 words, so I figure it would have been considered flash fiction if it were written today.

That first story, even though it was very raw, whet my appetite for the genre, though, in a way that has never truly gone away over the years. Even when I’m writing longer pieces I often go back and complete a shorter piece just to keep me connected. Sometimes the pieces even complement each other. But oftentimes my shorter fiction is standalone, and that’s fine with me too.

Recently I saw a challenge somewhere on the internet. I don’t remember where it was. Perhaps I should have bookmarked the page. But I do recall seeing it, and even though I don’t want to pay $50 bucks to enter it, I like its premise. The point is to complete a series of short stories that may or may not have connections between them at intervals, and utilizing certain prompts.

So I’m co-opting the challenge for myself. I’m going to dig deep, count words, and keep each of my challenge stories below the 1000-word threshold.

The first prompt: Candy apple red.

There are 24 colors in Lenny’s crayon box, but he only really uses three: Overly Onyx, Hydrangea Blue, and Candy Apple Red. He got the box for his birthday, but he can never remember which one, even though his mother keeps reminding him. While the other colors are in pristine shape, the three he uses most often keep wearing down into nubs that eventually find themselves in the trash bin. His mother dutifully replaces them at the Crayola Store downtown, purchasing multiples of the three colors as reserves for when Lenny inevitably uses the last vestiges of color in each.

Lenny likes the original box, though, because he likes things in perfect order, so he slides the new crayons into the holes left by the previous ones, keeping them all lined up perfectly, just as they were when he originally opened the box. Every one of those 24 colors looks the way it did on the day he first slid his finger underneath the cover, lifted the lid, and gazed at their perfection. But he still only uses the three colors, even though his mother has tried her best to persuade him to try something different. He sticks to his routine, though, because Lenny is a creature of habit.

Every morning Lenny gets up from his twin bed, in his 12 x 12 room, on the second floor of his house, he places his feet into his fuzzy slippers, and he heads into the bathroom. The trip always takes him exactly 24 steps. He always brushes his teeth exactly sixteen times, and turns off the faucet between brushing and rinsing. Then he sits on the toilet for his morning constitutional, which always lasts five minutes, at which time he folds the toilet paper into a perfect square and finishes the process. His shower takes an additional ten minutes, and he arrives at the breakfast table exactly on his schedule. Every single day.

His favorite color is red. He has red hair, a bright shade that most people mistake for some type of hair dye, but it is natural. His mother tires of answering the question, because Lenny doesn’t talk. Lenny has never talked, even though he is twenty years old, and odds are that he will never talk, no matter how many years he lives. At first it was difficult on his mother, but she has learned to adjust to most things. She has had to adjust to most things because she is a single parent even though it was never her choice.

Lenny likes to color on the walls, and his mother lets him. She has always let him, because it’s the only thing that he enjoys doing all of the time. Sometimes he likes to read. Sometimes he likes to ride in the car. But the one thing he can always get absolutely absorbed in are his murals. He’s really good at drawing them too, even though his mother swears no one in the family has the same skills. She has always been in awe of his talent, but she will never tell him this because he doesn’t take well to praise.

You see, Lenny likes to take his frustrations out on himself. He can often be found hitting himself, or punching himself, or attempting to strangle himself even though this is impossible to do with his hands. His mother has had cameras installed throughout the house so that she can monitor his movements, so that she can save him from himself if it becomes necessary. It has been necessary before. She is at her wit’s end, but she cannot imagine a world where Lenny doesn’t live with her, so she never thinks of putting him in a facility. Well, almost never.

The murals on the walls of their home are all depictions of people interacting. There are Hydrangea Blue people, Overly Onyx people, and Candy Apple Red folk. Each one of the colors is distinctive in the characters he represents using it. All of the Hydrangea Blue people are women, who have a particular lilt to their heads, obsessively long hair, and large eyes that seem to take in everything in the room. There are no Hydrangea Blue people in Lenny’s bedroom. The Overly Onyx people are all looking down, as if they’ve all just done something they’re not proud of, and they hope no one ever finds out. They are all men.

But the Candy Apple Red people are the ones who always make his mother stop and stare whenever she encounters them. They are few and far between, but Lenny makes up for it with the detail he puts into them. They are so realistic that his mother sometimes fully expects them to peel themselves off the walls and begin walking around the house. She thinks she would embrace them if that ever happened because they seem to calm her son down when he is in one of his moods. They are both women and men.

Even though there are fewer Candy Apple Red people in the house, for some reason that particular crayon wears out more than the other two that Lenny uses. His mother thinks he creates murals elsewhere that she doesn’t get to see, and that every single one of these hidden murals is done in red. She can never be sure because Lenny will not let her search in the shadows of his room, but she is still fairly certain. Which is fine with her, because she knows her son needs those private moments, to bleed red, to get out the emotions that have to be brimming at the surface, biding their time when he seems so calm. She hopes it’s enough.

Death By Rotation

spinI knew within the first ten minutes that I would not survive. My body simply wasn’t made for that kind of endurance, or if it was then I haven’t kept it in tip-top shape over the past few years. A few cookies here and there. Some cookies and cream ice cream on occasion. You know how it is. Then I decided to try and get back in shape after several years of neglect, and my body said, “Nuh-unh. No way. Not me.” After ten minutes on that stationary bike, my mind was in complete agreement with my body.

I went spinning tonight. If you don’t know what it is, spinning is the equivalent of old school stationary biking… kicked up a notch, as Emeril would say. It’s an hour of hearing the instructor yell at you as if you’re deaf. And she’s shouting things like “Now turn up the resistance,” and “Go at your own pace, but make sure you hit 100.” Um, yeah. My own pace is a sedate 45, and I was quite proud of it until I noticed everyone else in the class going quite a bit faster. Perhaps they were even hitting 100. I told myself they weren’t, to make me feel better.

It all started five years ago when we had a “health awareness” day at the school I taught at. These folks from the local gym came with eight spinning bikes, and my friend Rebecca talked me into trying it out with her after lunch. That was my first mistake. Needless to say they had to clean up the gym floor after my ride. My second mistake was thinking that it would be a piece of cake. It was not. I did everything the instructor said, but she screamed at us and challenged us to keep going past the point where I wanted to just fall off the bike and fade into the floor.

And I was sore for days afterward. My family went to a water park on the next day and I wanted to just sit in those water tubes and rest my bottom for the whole day. Instead I was chasing after my three-year old as she wanted to go on every single ride available to her. Oh yeah, and hurting with every single step I took. You see, spinning takes it out of your rear end, but also out of your legs. My legs literally felt like jello as I tried to run and keep up with the little munchkin. I told myself never again. Continue reading “Death By Rotation”

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