Haven’t posted anything in a while. My efforts haven’t gone unassigned, however. Since February I’ve been writing on 100words.com, and a group of us friends/writing humans have come up with topics for the day or week, and writing accorindly. It’s been a while since I was so inspred to write. The topics for this month were suggested by my friend Claire.
They were:[april 1-7]: hearth and home
[april 8-14]: traveling
[april 15-21]: adventure
[april 22-30] transportation/commute
I honestly wasn’t sure what to do with the topics. I didn’t know why I was stuck. All I could see was the first entry. So I went with it. The following is my fearful dance around a short story. I never thought I could write fiction, so I…didn’t. Interesting what can be done when we actually get over ourselves and try. so here’s what I’ve been up to. This, and trying to cut back on sentences beginning with “so,”
He parted the metallic blinds with two fingers and squinted out the window. The foreclosure sign on the house across the street had fallen down again. It was the ugliest house, ugly, sad and empty. If he had the money still, he’d buy it right up, just to knock it down and start over.
Start over. The blinds clicked back to a close. Deep sigh brought on a hacking cough as he dropped backwards into the worn armchair. Gazing at the stack of bills, torn envelopes and scraps of paper, he felt sick.
Empty. The house was once a home.
If she hadn’t left. His heart raced.
He stood up, walked to the bar. “Bar.” Was going to be. Surveying slim choices, he decided on cheap rum, rum and seltzer…sad excuse for a drink, but…he reasoned: you give for living, and you live to give…was that it?
“I’m starting. Again.”
He set the bottle on the on the granite. Inspirational quotes flooded his mind, ironically, consistently taking no root. Childhood friends’ phone numbers, neighbors’ license plates numbers.That was all saved.
He left. Friends took attention.
Where was that one-liner? He poured the rum hard, droplets exploding evenly. Start try now.
He awoke with a horrible jump, his mouth pasted shut. Butcher sat at his feet, tail beating the floor, heavy chin on Keith’s thigh. Empty glass indicated night’s end and familiar disappointment hung low. His mind rummaged…what was I…
And Butcher sat, waiting. 3:40 a.m.
Keith slouched while the dog lumbered hastily outside. English Mastiffs were known to be large; this was a creature of epic proportions. People would gasp when they took him for walks. Laughter. Butcher was scared of bugs, loud noises, loved his belly rubbed after dinner.
Butcher used to hide behind her when the doorbell rang.
Sunday morning Keith awoke on his own and took Butcher out. He looked at the pile of lumber along the side of the garage and felt his stomach turn. All those pre-ordered cuts, destined for a dead project? He rubbed his forehead and nodded, it will work out.
Butcher ran, Keith followed. When this was all over… He envisioned an apartment up by Manor street, behind the bay. Man and Dog. Fresh start. He felt energized for a moment, then quickly took a double glance at Dog.
He ran over to the fence, dropping his coffee mug. Oh God.
Butcher was holding a bluebird. By the foot.
Keith wanted to scream, and gulped instead, thinking of her. “DROP IT!” he yelled. Butcher thumped his tail dropping the dead bird at his Master’s feet. I bought a massive dog, and he is a cat. He wondered if he should call…who? The dead bird people? Should butcher get a shot? Crap.
These things never came up when they lived in the city. Things were neat, straightforward, sometimes unexpected, but never dead birds, well, after all this.
Keith turned towards the house, his left foot crunching what sounded like cereal. A barrette.
Inside, Butcher sauntered over to his favorite blanket beside the old armchair. Keith thought about brushing the great beast’s teeth, then shook his head.
He walked towards the staircase and began to climb slowly. The barrette was small, painted red with tiny blue flowers, and now in two pieces. He wondered if she knew it was missing. She bought them in Axe en Provence, in a tiny shop near the university, and continued to wear them well after college ended. They were unique, highlighting her quirky, bright personality.
He placed the broken pieces in the shoebox by the bed. Teresa.
The shoebox was not full, but contained an odd assortment …pieces she was unable to launch into boxes, unknowingly.
Downstairs, he gathered himself at his laptop. He remote-controlled “on” in the fireplace. Tomorrow, a professional “stager” would be coming to the house to determine how best he could mask the truth in order to sell. His colleagues’ at the college had pushed him; Keith fully intended on blowing it off.
Butcher sniffed, picking up a pillowcase. Trotting to his Spot, Keith’s heart sank. Baker and Seemaker (they had tired of Candlestick Maker) didn’t have a chance to pack their bags.
Their first trip, alone. Keith’s heart beat proudly as the stewardess handed him a weak Bloody Mary. Being 21 and heading overseas for anyreason is reason enough. Teresa organized her bag for the third time that he had counted; everything in its place. Going to Thailand with few days’ notice was not only exciting, it was Life; their story, their plan, afterwards knowing…. He took a long sip, grabbing her hand.
“I’ll never leave your side” he whispered.
“Is that number two or three?” she smiled, tilted.
He eased his grip and turned towards the wing, reliable and strong.
Stuck in traffic. Understatement. The car dumbly waited miles from the border of Vermont.
“We’re gonna miss some of it,” he said. She remembered learning the word perfunctory in college. She nodded. Perfunctory.
“Yeah.” Bury frustration in beer: setting loose cap with keychain bottle opener.
Cars ahead hadn’t moved in…45 minutes at least. He sighed audibly, turning the key inward. Loud silence a welcome blanket for the Exhausted. . . She settled, tried to view the situation from a new perspective. Perspectives, unlike rural routes, are endless. “I’ll never leave your side,” she whispered, smiling true; no shower for days.
She awoke with a start. “KEITH.” She punched his side. “WHAT. IS. THAT!” Keith snored loudly, turning on his back. “KEITH!”
He snarled and choked, “WHAT? Crap! I’veasked you not to—”
“SOMETHING is DOWN THERE”
“Whatwhere?” he felt for his glasses, the flashlight, his grip.
“I hear chewing…” she whined. “Get a light, please…” Silence.
He fumbled, pointing the flashlight wildly around the camper. Light poured onto captains’ seats, worn brown stripes, the shine of a CD, an empty beer bottle, matches.
The silence broke.
A brown mouse crouched beside the clutch, frozen. Stereo wire in its deathgrip.
Three nights after they moved to Maine Lane, two nights after meeting the Fitzmeaneys, the smell of smoke interrupted Teresa’s teeth brushing.
Keith was at the window. “Holy shit,” he said softly, “Get the phone. Reese, phone!”
Sirens nearing, blaring; lame sense of relief. The Fitzmeaneys’ garage and breezeway was engulfed in flames, rapidly threatening the house. As trucks approached, Keith pressed his face to the screen: two children sat dumbly by the swingset.
“Where’s the rest of them?”
Pounding down the stairs barefoot, Teresa ran outside and scooped up the twins.
Keith shuddered at the thought: to lose everything.
The monkey on the back of the tour guide stared at them. His brown head looked balding, and Teresa asked Keith again if he thought it was sick.
“He can hear you, Reese,” he muttered.
“It’s gross and making fun of me,” she said, softly.
“The king of the rainforest!” the tour guide declared, motioning towards a large banyan tree. Cameras clicked and khaki-clad geeks circled closer.
Keith couldn’t resist the urge to laugh. Teresa shot him a glance, followed by a kidney punch.
“I’m sorry, it’s a tree,” he whispered. Teresa smiled tightly, stifling a giggle. They trudged on.
The toothless man offered them a stick of gum as the car sped down route 9.
“Ah, no thanks,” Keith waved his hand. Teresa, crowded on his lap, tightened her grip around his arm. Sharing the passenger seat was difficult, but the backseat was full of, what Teresa thought was old computer equipment. She stared out the windshield and bit her lip. Pushing the gasless van to safety didn’t seem so bad now. What is that smell?
“Ya gotta git yourself a GAS CAN!” the man shouted, laughing. Keith rubbed his forehead. Not exactly the adventure they had in mind.
“Il a dit «Cela Est le mauvais fils» Teresa bent in half, laughing, shaking. She wiped her eyes.
“He said, ‘it’s the other son!’” she explained. Keith nodded, rolling his eyes at the hilarious stranger who clearly did not see their wedding rings.
After missing the last train to Bordeaux, the pair had parked in the train station’s bar, thank God for small favors. He took a long swig of hisChoulette Blonde and reached into his coat pocket. Smuggling Corn Nuts was difficult, not because of customs, but because of her.
Anyone who didn’t like Corn Nuts was insane.
That feeling of being in the deep end, not being able to fully register: is this real or simply perceived danger?
She’d convinced him of another adventure trip, this time hiking in the Tatra Mountains of Poland. His pre-trip research made his stomach go cold. Unable to climb a ladder without fear, Keith wondered if Teresa’s goal was to ultimately kill him by falling off something they had just scaled with a tour group, or by a badly-timed spider bite in an exotic country most people couldn’t find on a map.
“You ready?” Teresa squatted and held out her hand.
Teresa’s hand was soft and dry even in the 90 degree heat, and Keith was conscious of his sweaty palm. She smiled as he rose.
“You’re gonna be OK,” she nodded. Sure, he smiled back.
Feeling queasy, Keith wondered if he’d overdone it on the Corn Nuts. He tended to overdo it with certain snacks; between Corn Nuts and gummy bears, he was bound to end up in the hospital some day.
They continued with the hiking group, Teresa walking ahead, as usual. Keith admired her bravery. He wouldn’t tell her that for a long time.
The air became thinner.
The note on the refrigerator simply stated: GUTTERS. Keith sighed. They’d been through this, a matter of a phone call. She knew he couldn’t go up a ladder and there was no reason to use all caps. Keith hated all caps.
He hadn’t believed her, years before, that her mother was a trapeze artist. “So that, makes your family circus people?”
“Hey better than carnies!” she chirped.
Keith really hadn’t believed it until he saw it. I guess, he reasoned, packing the garage, you marry the daughter of a trapeze artist, you should know anything is possible. Why end now.
The only things that scared Teresa were small spaces and roller coasters. The small spaces “thing” went right along with her personality. She thrived on open spaces, freedom, movement, all that was in flux. She made reference to a time in her childhood where she was trapped on a hospital elevator; it had become stuck on the way to go see her new baby sister. Although it was only moments of waiting, the fear seized and didn’t let go. Sort of the way Keith grasped her hand when the plane took off.
He only felt safe in small spaces. Protected.
A little after five in the morning, Keith informed Teresa he was sick. Feels like flu. She awoke like a surprised cat, stiffening to attention in one motion. What do you need? What can I do? He slumped back into the mess of covers. Nah ok, need sleep. He knew last night he’d miss the 5k. Third one he’d signed up for, third secret hangover and a curtain diagnosis. Last time, food poisoning. First time, he’d pulled off a migraine.
I’ll take care of you. She turned on her side, coldness coating her stomach. Back to sleep, it’s not contagious.
She had started out an art history major, then decided photography was her calling. A project junior year led her to a stint of abandoned buildings, most of which she photographed from the outside.
Then she got brave.
And dragged him along.
It was the abandoned Holiday Inn on Route 4 where she learned he was asthmatic; he learned she was nuts.
And he had to be with her.
She was writing a thesis paper, something about preserving the past and human nature and disposable habits…
He was terrified, sure he would die from an asbestos-related illness.
But in love.
He typed “How To Fish” carefully in the search engine. Hmm. So many sites. He smiled; the feeling of satisfaction creeped. Nothing like solid research to prepare a guy for a situation. He bookmarked a website that showed little fishermen with all the right moves: bait casting, fly fishing, spin casting, still fishing. Jackpot. He Ctrl T’d: “Fishing Gear.”
Teresa’s bound up the staircase was faster than Keith’s “minimize window” skills. She flung herself at his shoulders and rested her head next to his.
“You’ve been fishing, right?” She met his silent gaze. Her big eyes looked sadder than usual.
Traffic interfered in their lives more than Teresa thought normal.
“This lousy jerk in front of us shouldn’t be allowed to drive that hunk of crap,” she stated in the even tone Keith only heard when they were disagreeing…or she was driving…or claustrophobic…or enduring tax season…
“Remember your old car, be kind?” Keith replied from the back seat. That irritating manner he had of ending a statement with a question…
If Teresa could have growled, she would have.
She shifted her attention to the rearview mirror. “He ok?”
Keith smiled, cradling the kitten in his big sweatshirt. “Baker is a-ok.”
Butcher and Baker got along surprisingly. Both Keith and Teresa were on edge, in their own ways, upon bringing the new cat home. Male dog, male cat? Who knows? It turned out to be bizarrely fine. “Bizarrely fine,” a Teresa-esque phrase Keith came to know quite well.
Butcher’s massive size was like a joke from Mother Nature. He was awkward, like a puppy, but a puppy who’d never quite grown into his immense sneakers. Baker, whose laughably boring—but given—name, was more aggressive, but not around his Big New Friend. They sat, in approval, on the couch.
Driving home from work was when Keith first saw the cat. She was hiding behind their garbage cans; peering, next to the school bus stop. He noticed her a couple nights in a row, and began to wonder how she was that bold to lean in the direction of his car, turning onto the dead end (which Teresa wouldn’t hear of: it was a cul de sac of course). It was a Friday afternoon when Keith finally stopped the car. Feeling sort of reckless from a frustrating day, he pulled over and walked to the cat. Same place, different day.
Keith was not a natural animal lover; neither was Teresa. It was of the few things they did together, without knowing it.
That Friday, Keith got brave. The cat was just being herself. What cat would willingly jump into the arms of a stranger? Circumstances aside, Keith felt a rush of adrenaline. Who knows how she’d react?
At that point, he had started to not care. Maybe another pet would do to the trick. Out of all the things that worked and didn’t work, it seemed that this was working. Her name, whether she liked it or not, became Candlestickmaker.
Two days and several hangovers after she’d left, Keith got dressed for work. He was in a fog, mentally, a maze, emotionally, and pretty much broken all over.
The reasons still evaded him, he was angry and broken, did he mention broken? He knew though, that was the sad part. He knew everything and it didn’t help.
Before his dad died, his mom had given him a letter. It was written from his great grandfather, and was supposed to have been passed down from generation to generation. He didn’t read it for years.
And it didn’t help when he did.
Teresa learned, age 7, that not everyone’s parents were in a circus. The insulation, the protection was all she knew. By the 2nd grade equivalent, her father insisted she would no longer be home schooled, but would attend the local public school. He believed in the Public School System, not in his wife as a sound purveyor of knowledge. At least, not any knowledge that a young girl should have. Yet.
Her clothes were the first isolating factor. Closely following were: bathroom rules, sitting [still?] on plastic chairs for lunch, and a stifling 30 minutes per day, to be outside.
The ride to school was long and rough. Keith grew up outside of town, way outside of town. The buses didn’t come out that far, so he was subjected to a fate worse than school, worse than getting pantsed at his locker, worse than getting body checked in the cafeteria, worse than being picked last for dodgeball: the Car Pool.
Tom McGillis made Keith’s life miserable. The sound of the sliding minivan door, the smell of cheerio throwup, and looking into the eyes of evil McGillis, each and every morning. Almost more than he could take. But he took it.
Teresa sobbed uncontrollably. Shaking in Keith’s armpit, she appeared to be shrinking. He tried to pull her up; she flopped like a sack half full of dead weight. The people in the car next to them stared. Keith shot them a face attitude and kissed Teresa on the forehead.
“Let’s go home, we don’t need to see this,” he said, too late.
“I think we’re trapped,” she replied, wiping her eyes. She sat crossed-legged on the passenger seat, looking around. Keith looked too; disappointed in himself—he should have known. Drive-in movie with death penalty theme. What was he thinking?
Early June, eleven months after he believed his life to be over, they met near Navy Pier. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t expected; it held little promise. But it was real, it happened.
Their breakup had been called “messy.” Shaking the earth free from its axis would have been as challenging as breaking the connections that bound them. Yet they pushed on, broken, damaged pieces; items in Keith’s shoebox.
Rounding a corner, dodging tourists and junk food, Teresa slammed into Keith’s side. His coffee plummeted.
I’ll never leave your side.
A cool breeze met their warm faces, eyes locked.