Laney’s Story

I catch a glimpse of Miles walking towards the car in the rear view mirror and my breath catches. For a moment it had been his dad’s image in the mirror. Perhaps it’s the way he carries the load of snacks in his arms while holding a bag of beef jerky between his teeth. Or it’s the way they both walk. It could be the sun in my eyes. Or a perhaps it is simply time to have the talk.

I promised I’d tell Miles when he turned eighteen, but that birthday passed over four months ago. Of course I didn’t want to disrupt his studies during the tail end of his senior year, then there was graduation and all the festivities, and now this much awaited road trip. Always an excuse to postpone the conversation, although I’m not sure why I am scared. I guess there is the possibility it will disrupt things, the nice flow we’ve settled into.

“Want anything?” Miles asks good-naturedly as he takes his seat in the passenger side in his own car. His own car. My son is a man now, although he looks like a gangly teenager, he drove us for three hours straight, until I offered to take over.

I shake my head ‘no’ as I ease back on to the highway. I don’t believe this conversation will ruin the trip for Miles, but it might ruin it for me. That is, not telling him is becoming an issue. I look over at my son and decide to leap. “Miles, I want to talk to you about your dad.”

“Go ahead,” He says, ripping into a bag of chips. “What about him?”

“Well,” I hesitate and look over at him. “I want to talk to you about his death.”

“Actually Mom, you don’t have to. Grandpa already told me.”

“What?” My heart  thuds against my sternum. I didn’t think my dad knew.

“Yeah. That was on his list of things to talk to me about before he died. Number one, actually.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Grandpa told you your dad was gay?”

“What?” Miles squeals and I look over in time to see a chip fall out of his mouth. He is coughing, so I wait.

“Oh . . . So I guess he didn’t tell you.”

Miles continues coughing and waves his hands in the air.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“That’s not what he told me!” Miles squeaks out, then goes back to his coughing fit.

This isn’t going as smooth as I hoped. In fact, I am considering puling over and giving Miles the Heimlich maneuver, but then he takes a big swig of Mountain Dew and mutters, “Grandpa said that his death wasn’t an accident,” he coughs again. “He said he was really depressed and that he made it look like an accident by not leaving a note or anything, but then he drove off a cliff.” The tears in his eyes must be from choking.

“Yes, that is true. He did plan that accident. But Grandpa didn’t tell you why he was depressed?”

“Well, no. No. He didn’t say why. Why was he?” Miles squeals in a voice an octave too high.

“He wasn’t just depressed, he was gay. Your father was dying. He had AIDS.”

Miles shakes his head in disbelief, and continues to cough.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I mean I’m choking  to death, but I’m okay. Mom, how could that be?” I glance over long enough to see his face is still distorted with horror. “Do you have AIDS? Do I?”

“No, no, Miles. Neither of us have it. Your dad and I had . . . a different kind of relationship by that time.”

I look over again and see that the confused look on his face. “Okay, okay, let me explain.” I take a deep breath, put my hand at ten and two on the steering wheel and begin the story of what it is like loving a gay man.

 

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Frogs

I thank God for my dead babies. Now I do. Seemed cruel at the time, and I couldn’t see the point of going through all that, but now I’m thankful the last three babies didn’t make it.

I couldn’ta left him with more than one kid. It was hard enough to leave him with one, but if there were two, I’d still be there, I know I would. Still livin’ with a man that hates me, but won’t admit it.

I can’t tell you the day he started hatin’ me, anymore than I can tell you the day I stopped lovin’ him. Didn’t happen like that. Someone told me you can boil a live frog if you put it in lukewarm water and turn up the heat real slow. The frog don’t have the sense to jump out.

My heat got turned up real slow. Over years. Plus when you become a momma, you don’t just think for yourself anymore. The rules changed. It became okay to tell me to shut up. I’d never marry a man who would tell me to shut up, but I guess I’d stay married to one.

I should probably mention that he never actually hit me. That’s important. He didn’t want to be a man who hits his wife, plus he knew I’d leave if he did. So he never hit me, he just meant to scare me, is what he says now. He did a damn good job, somedays.

But a man’s voice can do a different kind of damage. So can his eyes. Funny thing about the eyes, they can say so much. I love you. I want to kill you. Or I won’t even look at you.  For days on end.  A whole lot can be said without ever speakin’.

His eyes reminded me of Clint Eastwood in the old westerns, cept’ there was nothing handsome about someone lookin’ at ya’ like they want to kill you. At first I would look in those eyes and wonder where my husband went. Could I reach him if I spoke in a sweet voice? Could I get past the anger and find my husband who loves me? Was he still in there behind those crazy eyes?

Eventually I learned not to reason with crazy. If he got to that point, if he crossed that line, there was nothin’ to do cept’ try and weather the storm. I’d  agree with every bit of nonsense that came out of his mouth, or I stayed quiet. I became someone I didn’t recognize, passive and dishonest. But if I tried to talk sense, he’d take it as arguing and he’d stand on his toes with gestures of a streetfighter, asking me if I wanted to fight. All I ever wanted to do was not fight.

Later he might apologize, or still be mad, or forget about it, claiming whatever he said when he was mad didn’t really count. I never felt like it was resolved properly and came to expect it would happen again, just didn’t know when.  Drinking didn’t seem to be much of a factor. He’d never over indulge, or go and bar drink or anything like that. There were spurts of days of drinking a tall beer, and spurts of days with no drinking at all.

Occasionally he would go on a marijuana holiday. I always loved that at first, since he’d become real nice. My shoulders would relax during those times and I could breathe easy knowing I wouldn’t see crazy eyes. Plus he would be sweetly reasonable. Once I even convinced him we should get a kitten, but the weed holiday ended and he remembered he hated cats and the cat had to go. The weed vacations were only great at first anyway, since eventually he’d turn slothy and grumpy. Then there was the time he accidently lit the garage on fire. I left something at home and we had to turn back and saw the smoke coming from under the door. He was quick to get the fire out right before the firemen arrived and right before the gas can in the garage ignited. It was a close call. The plastic gas can melted a bit, but all our belongings in the apartment above were safe.

The fights started coming closer and closer together, and in between the not looking at me or touching me got worse, and the days I felt like I loved him got further and further apart.  I started thinking about leaving and he must of sensed it. It made him crazier.

His behavior those last few months is something I don’t like to talk about, it sure embarrasses me. I was damn near a boiled frog. I’m grateful now, thankful he couldn’t just be nice. Just like the dead babies that hurt so bad at the time that I now thank God for. I’m thankful he couldn’t be a decent human being when he needed to be.

I don’t need to rehearse the misdeeds to remember.  I still see him on a daily basis, since we are sharing our son. He has tried to convince me he is a new man, but now I can see the turbulence under the calm surface.

Besides, he can act as nice and polite as anyone, but nothing in me wants to hug him, touch him, or go back to that iceberg bed. I can breathe now. I can think of other things. I no longer feel my heart racing. Not for fear or for love. He can look at me with longing or contempt. Doesn’t matter. The frog is dead, but I survived. I learned that the frog isn’t really me, just my marriage. I did have the sense to escape, but the frog got boiled and there ain’t no way to unboil a frog.

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Felina Ponders

Felina’s thoughts were interruped by a splash of water on her foot.

“I have been trying to catch your attention,” the fish said. “I have been shouting your name and finally had to splash you to get you to notice me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Felina answered, removing the buds from her ears. “I couldn’t hear you.”

“Obviously. What are you listening to?”

“Myself. My own voice.”

“You’ve recorded some music?”

“Oh no,” Felina laughed. “I am not listening to music. These are ear plugs, not headphones. I wanted it quiet so I could hear my own voice.”

The fish swam in a circle, pondering what she said. “In this pond, it is always quiet. I don’t need ear plugs.”

“Well that is why I came out here. To get away from the people and noise and hear myself clearly.”

“And instead you are listening to a fish. I’ve interrupted your solitude and if I apologized, it would be insincere. I get very lonely in this pond and am happy for a brief exchange, even if it is unwanted.”

Felina was quiet for a moment and the fish was sad, thinking the conversation was over, but then Felina lifted her head.

“Thank you,” she said. “I have now heard what I was meant to hear. The real reason I came out here was unknown to me until just now.”

The fish remained uncharacteristically quiet, hoping Felina would explain. He got his wish.

“I came out here to get away from people and experience solitude. You can not leave the pond an have the exact opposite problem. My legs can move me from company to solitude, while you have to wait until companionship comes to you. It must get very lonely.”

“It does,” admitted the fish. “Will you promise to come back and visit me regularly?”

“No. You are a fish and I am a girl. You must accept the limitatiions of our frienship, or you will always want more than I can give. Besides, fish of your type are meant to be solitary. You are clearly not a schooling type of fish.”

“Yes, you are right. I am a very evolved fish. I might just crawl out of this pond and kiss you.”

Felina threw her head back and giggled, then looked at the fish in his one eye she could see. “What makes you think I want to be kissed by a fish?”

“I don’t know. I am just a crazy talking fish with big ideas.”

“A dreamer with time for imagining the fantastic.”

“And you are a strange girl who seeks solitude and ends up talking to a fish.”

Reminded of her quest for quiet, Felina stood and said goodbye.

“See you later?” The fish asked, and Felina just shrugged and waved.

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Felina Goes Fishing

Felina walked along the edge of the large pond, feeling sad and brave at the same time. I wonder if there are any fish in this pond? she thought to herself. She knelt at the edge of the pond and dipped her hand into the water and felt around. Something grazed her hand and she quickly pulled back, but then cautiously put her hand back in and closed it around the body of a fish. She pulled the colorful fish from the water, astounded that she had caught him so easily.

“Were you looking for a fish like me? Because I’m a good example of the type,” the fish said.

Felina shook her head in disbelief, “I didn’t even know fish like you existed.”

“I’m quite rare. I’ve never met another talking fish either.”

“Why did you let me catch you so easily?”

“I’ve been waiting for someone like you to come along. Someone hopeful enough to stick their hand in murky water and pull out a lonely but extraordinary fish.”

“Astounding!” Felina exclaimed to the fish whom she now held gently in both hands. She carefully placed the fish back into the water, where he stayed near the surface and swam around while talking to her about many things. They talked for hours, as he swam in circles near the surface, and he made her laugh with his shark impression. She listened and then told him about her own life, and he listened. When she put her feet in the water, he nibbled her toes and made her giggle.

“I must say, I didn’t expect to meet such a special fish today. Or ever, for that matter.”

“I knew I would eventually meet a lovely woman. I only hoped she’d be silly enough to talk to a fish.” He flipped his caudal fin to send a playful splash her way. “I see many fish each day, but alas, they are all non-speaking varieties.”

Felina nodded because she understood. “I was a bit sad when I arrived at this pond. You have made me smile and laugh more than I have in a long time. But it is getting late and I must be going.”

“Why? Why can’t you stay and smile and laugh some more?”

“I would love to, except I have responsibilities, things I need to take care of.”

The fish swam back and forth, but did not answer.

“I have a home, and I left the doors open. The fire is not lit. I have a little cat that will be hungry.”

The fish swam back and forth, but did not answer.

“You wouldn’t consider me lovely if I neglected my cat.”

The fish finally answered, “I’m worried you won’t come back.”

Felina laughed at the absurdity. “You silly fish. Isn’t it obvious how much I enjoy your company?”

The fish floated on his side while considering the question. “But what if you are walking home and you meet a talking fox? Or a talking squirrel? Or a talking bird.”

Felina thought for a moment and said, “I met a talking fish today, and it has been amazing. If all the animals start speaking to me, it would be a tragedy. That would imply that I’ve simply gone mad. Then you wouldn’t be special at all.”

“Hmmm,” said the fish. “I think I see what you mean.”

“Besides, today might be the day you find another talking fish in that pond, and then I won’t seem nearly as interesting to you.”

“I want you to come back.”

Felina was suddenly overwhelmed by the vulnerability expressed by the fish who didn’t have the ability to come to her. “I will come back, I promise. I could not possibly stay away from a fish such as yourself.”

“I’ll be here.”

Felina walked home and did not meet a talking fox, or squirrel, or bird. When she got home, she said ‘hello’ to her cat who answered with a hungry meow. So I am not crazy. I actually met a talking fish, and I already miss him.

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Flash Back – Nonfiction

I’m breaking my own schedule this week, going off topic to post a little piece that is short, but not exactly exactly flash-fiction.

Stolen Kisses

During the summer of 1979, between seventh and eighth grade, I rode my bike to the beach almost everyday with my pack of girlfriends: Lisa, Lisa, Laurie, and Anne.  We were a tight knit group and as with most girls that age, we had rules, some spoken and some unspoken.  A lot of it had to do with having the right stuff, and I don’t mean moral fiber, I literally mean “stuff.”

We all had to ride beach cruisers, wear Vans, have long hair, wear Chemin de Fer jeans, and hang puka shells around our necks.  We all wore the same type of bikini that summer.  “The crossback” was aptly named because the straps crossed our backs then came under the sides of our bikini bottoms and tied in the front.  The bikinis were two-toned with white, alternating one boob white, one butt cheek white, and the other boob and butt cheek a differing color.  One of our unspoken rules was that while we all wore crossbacks, it was forbidden to buy one in the same color already owned by one of our group.  That is how I came to own my brown and white crossback.  It probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but one of the Lisas already had green.

We were not a prissy bunch, we were very physical.  We often doubled up on one beach cruiser with one on the handle bars and had ‘chicken fights’, trying to kick each other as we rode 5 miles to the beach. We never worried about sun screen back then.  It was all about Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil in the brown bottle with the distinct smell of coconut.  We liked to rub it in, rather than remain oily.

Once we reached our destination of Seal Beach, we would park our bikes where we could keep an eye on them, then lay out our towels and commence the boy watching.  Propped up on our elbows on the sand near the pier, we had a view of everything – the people walking on the pier, people coming and going in the parking lot, and the surfers riding the waves on the south side of the pier.

We were all boy crazy, but very inexperienced except for Laurie.  She filled us in on things we wanted to know, and coincidentally, she was the only one of us who filled out her bikini top.  Laurie gave us french kissing lessons by using her hand made into a slightly open fist.  We were all attentive students with pertinent questions; which way do you lean your head?  Do you start with your mouth open?  Are you supposed to make your tongue go clockwise?  Laurie answered our questions and also told us about some of the boys at our school who were good kissers and some who were not.  I was shocked that she had kissed so many boys.  She wasn’t the prettiest girl at our school, or even in our group, yet she had kissed some eighth and ninth graders.  I felt really sorry for the boys she called “bad kissers” and mortified at the thought that someone might say the same thing about me.

One summer day, we had just put our towels down and were talking and laughing when we saw a large group of boys walking down the ramp near the pier.  They walked onto the sand and start putting their belongings down about fifty feet away from us.  It wasn’t crowded yet.  Most people stayed away from the beach until the marine layer of clouds burned off, so our two groups had the beach almost to ourselves.  It wasn’t very long until the group of boys came over and introduced themselves.  They were a year older than us and they rode the bus from a city further inland.  Individual conversations pursued, and one boy sat down at the end of my towel and introduced himself as “Mitch.”

Mitch was cute, but not too cute.  His was an approachable look, not intimidating.  He had a big smile with straight white teeth that were lined up like disciplined little students, each with a tiny space between them, as a teacher would expect.  He had blondish-brown hair that was wavy, like me, but unlike me, he had a sprinkling of freckles.  He seemed muscular for someone our age and he had the requisite puka shell necklace and board shorts.

We hung out with the boys all day, but no one else seemed to pair off the way Mitch and I did.  He and I played in the water and sat on the sand talking.  We laughed a lot and teased each other and became increasingly touchy in a jostling way.  “Look at you, you have sand all over you.”  He said as he brushed sand off my thigh.  “Well so do you,” I said, knocking sand off his tan shoulder.

We walked down to Main Street and bought toffee peanuts from the candy store, and since we ran out of money, we shared a can of Coke.  We kept bumping into each other, when usually I was not clumsy.  When we got back to the beach, I went to the bathroom and the Lisas followed me in and interrogated me, “What is going on, tell us?”  I didn’t know what to say except that yes, I did like him.  The two Lisas were giddy with excitement, but when I asked, “Don’t you like any of his friends?” they both shook their heads and even rolled their eyes.

I went back in the water with Mitch and the two Lisas, but hardly noticed the watchful eyes of my two friends as I had other things on my mind; keeping the swimsuit in place every time a wave hit.  All three of us girls had to constantly readjust.  The crossbacks simply were just not made for swimming.

When we got out of the water this time, Mitch said “Come bring your towel over by me.”  I abandoned my girl-post to put my towel next to Mitch’s, about fifty feet from both groups forming a triangle.  We were on our stomachs side by side and didn’t talk much this time, but then Mitch did something strange; he took a lock of my long hair that was dripping with sea water and put the tip in his mouth and sucked on it.

“Mmmm, Salty,” he said.

“I do that too,” I said.  “You’re going to catch my cooties.”

“I want your cooties,” He laughed.  I laughed too, as I turned my shy head so he couldn’t see me continue smiling.

Pretty soon Mitch’s friends started yelling at him that they had to catch their bus.  We stood and Mitch put his hands on my hips and I rested mine on his shoulders.  His skin felt warm from the sun.  We looked like awkward students at a school dance, getting ready to slow dance by stepping in circles to “Stairway to Heaven,” but the only sound was that of his friends, yelling at him to hurry up.

“Can I get a kiss goodbye?” he asked.

I looked down and shook my head no.

He dropped his head, his shoulders slumped, and said, “I didn’t think so.”  He said bye and walked away.  I stood there and watched him walk away wondering if he might turn around, but he did not.

I walked back to my friends and they asked what happened.  They were disappointed in me and said I should have kissed him.  Laurie shook her head with bewilderment.  They couldn’t make me feel any worse than I already did.  The worst part is he didn’t know how much I really liked him.  He didn’t know how badly I wanted to kiss him and was scared.  He had no way of knowing it would have been my first kiss and that I was nervous I wouldn’t do it right, especially on the open beach with all our friends watching us even though they pretended not to.  I missed an opportunity to have my first kiss with a boy I really liked, and he was denied knowing how kissable I thought he was.  Fear is a thief.  In this case, we both got robbed, and I never got another opportunity to kiss Mitch.

Flash Fiction – 500 words

Momma’s Inner dialogue

I’m glad that’s over with, but I have a long drive ahead of me. Tarzanna?  Never even heard of it before yesterday.  Sure don’t fit in with the “Five miles from home” rule I try to live by.  Guess they don’t have places like this in Long Beach.  Doesn’t make a lick of sense.  If they have drugs, why don’t they have a place to detox them?  I expect the drive will take me an hour, just hope there isn’t traffic.  I sure as hell hate driving.  Oh, the things I do for these kids.

Oh shoot, I gotta’ remember to add gas money to the list of what she owes me.  Oh, and three packs of cigarettes too.  Damn girl had the nerve to ask for a whole carton!

Well, at least I won’t have to worry about this one for two whole weeks.  Lord knows I have enough to worry about.  Locked up for two weeks, we’ll see what happens after that.  I really didn’t see this one coming, though.  Sure I knew she was up to something, but heroin?  I’m no saint, God knows that, but heroin?  I kinda’ expected all my girls to get in some sort of trouble, pregnancy, kicked out of school, arrested for shoplifting, but heroin?  And here this one seemed to cause the least amount of trouble up until recently.  No, I sure didn’t see this coming.

Oh, I’ll admit I suspected something was wrong when I got that bank statement in the mail, but she had good excuses.  Plus I hadn’t seen much of her lately, but when I did she always wanted to borrow money.  She was getting skinny as a rail too.  And those damn boyfriends!  She got so insulted when I asked if she was a “groupie” but every damn one of them is in a band.  Isn’t that what a groupie is?  Course she never picked a successful musician from what I can tell. None of em’ ever made any money at it anyway.  Buncha’ amateurs.

She could do better if she wanted.  I keep telling her she’s the prettiest of my girls, but she’s not looking too good right now.  Hell, she kinda’ looked like a wet angry cat.  Tried to get her to put on some makeup before I left, but she won’t listen to her momma’.  Complained she wasn’t feeling well, but putting on a little lipstick doesn’t take much effort.  I wear lipstick every day of my life, even when I’m in the hospital having babies.  No need to look like a damn corpse when God gave us lipstick and eye make-up.

Well, I hope she gets her shit together and knocks that crap off.  Get a decent job, put those typing skills to use, get some damn health insurance and quit adding to my grey hair!  Lord knows I have enough to worry about.  Damn kids.

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Flash Fiction – 500 Words

Mommy’s Little Helper

“Why are you doing that?”  He asked.

“Doing what?”

“Putting those lemons in the water.”

“It’s for my book club,” she answered.

“Why don’t you just leave the lemons on the side?   Maybe some people don’t want lemons in their water.”

“I just felt like doing it this way.  I think it looks pretty.”

“What looks pretty doesn’t always taste good.”

She knew he actually preferred lemon in his water and that he always thought he was right.  She wouldn’t argue.  She sprinkled powdered sugar on the lemon bars and began cutting them into squares.

“Who’s coming over?”  He asked.  She named the five women in her book club even though it had been the same five women for two years.  “Who’s Gina?” he asked just like the last time and she explained who Gina was again.  “How long are they staying?”

She asked if he would prefer if they do not meet there again.  She liked when the meeting was at one of the other women’s house and she could relax.  He said no and asked why she made lemon bars.

“Book club.”

“Well, I know that,” he rolled his eyes.  “I thought you were trying to lose weight.”

She didn’t answer and he added, “Can you make sure I get some this time?”

“Of course,” she answered.  She cut out two and set them aside and when he left the room she took out the bottle of pills she had hidden behind the bag of flour.  She broke open two capsules and sprinkled the white powder onto the lemon bars along with the powdered sugar.  She covered the little plate with clear plastic and put a post it note on top labeling them “Dad’s.”  The kids wouldn’t dare.  Then she washed some strawberries and put them on a big platter and surrounded them with the remaining lemon bars.

Gina arrived first and whispered “How’s it going with Josie Wales?”  That was their code name for him based on the handsome but cold blooded Clint Eastwood character.

“Oh, the same, but I feel hopeful.  I expect a change soon.”

Gina raised an eyebrow so she went on to explain, “You know how the doctor gave me antidepressants a few months ago but I never took them?”

“Yeah, you’re not really depressed, just married to an asshole.”

“Well, fair enough.  But since he won’t go to marriage counseling, I started giving him the pills.  On the sly.”  She grinned at her friend thinking she would get approval for her genius plan.

Gina started to say something, and then hesitated as she remembered that she had snuck Viagra into her ex-husband’s food.  That move had not saved her marriage.   “Yeah well, you need to try something.  I sincerely hope it works for you.”

“For him,” She corrected.  “I’m fine.  He’s the one who is miserable.”  And she carried her tray of beautiful refreshments out to the patio.

 

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