Thursday, December 31, 2015

Resolutions




Happy New Year and happy Flash Fiction Friday!

In about two weeks, I’m going to begin taking down a story from this blog each week. I’ll keep posting a new story every Friday, but, over time, I hope to submit many of these stories for contests and/or include them in a future collection, so they won’t stay here indefinitely. In other words, if you haven’t read all of them yet, you’d better spend a few minutes catching up before they go *POOF*!  ;-)
You might notice that I’m continuing to make changes to the formatting of this blog. If you have any suggestions or any trouble signing up, please let me know. Some folks have reported that they’re unable to comment below and I’m continuing to work to resolve that. I’m easy to reach, though, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, G+, or even by email.

Resolutions
This is it. This is the year that I’m finally going to quit smoking. I’ve been meaning to for ages, but it’s a hard habit to kick. This time, I’m really going to do it, though. It’s a nasty, filthy habit and it isn’t ladylike. Besides, I’ve heard it’s dangerous.
While I’m at it, I suppose I should really work on de-cluttering. I don’t know why I always end up with so many piles of stuff. I wouldn’t call it hoarding, exactly. I like to think of myself as a collector. I have to face the fact that I’m not going to use any of this stuff, though, so I might as well donate it. Some of these treasures are worth a fortune.
It’s also time to go on a diet. I’m going to cut back to one maiden a month. No more knightly snacks, either. The armor is too heavy. Nobody wants to see a dragon fall out of the sky because she didn’t watch her weight!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Cookies


This week we celebrated winter solstice with a candle-lit feast, then spent two marvelous nights in one of the cabins out at the Shrine of St. Therese. It was quiet, peaceful, and internet-free. We chatted, enjoyed the view, cuddled, played games, and read books made of paper! How very old-fashioned of us. ;-) All of this celebrating and relaxing has led to a tiny nugget of a story this week. Short as it is, I hope you enjoy it.

As promised, A Flash of Genies is available from Amazon for free 12/25/15 through 12/28/15. As a bonus, Head Buckets & Hashtags is also free during the same time period.


Christmas Cookies

Brigid was famous for her Christmas cookies. Each December, she spent all of her spare time baking and delivering delicious treats, and each year more people clamored for her recipe.
Only her black cat knew that the secret ingredients included:
1/2 cup innocence of a newborn fawn
2 cups patience of a Great Blue Heron
1 3/4 cup generosity of a Golden Retriever dam who nurses two orphaned kittens along with her pups
2/3 cup kindness of evening dew after a hot summer day
3 rounded tsps sly moxy of a red fox
1 pinch dragon's confidence
and last but hardly least,
12 megatons of the wisdom of ancient redwoods
Cookie by cookie, Brigid was determined to create world peace.



Friday, December 18, 2015

The Longest Night





Happy Friday!
This week, I have another holiday-themed short story for you, along with some blog-related news.
First, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been playing with the format and background settings here. I’m quite happy about some of these changes, particularly what you’ll find in the right hand margin.
Go ahead and take a look. I’ll wait, I promise. ;-)
As you can see, there is now a place where you can sign up for my blog posts by email. Cool, right? Not only that, but I don’t even get a notification that you’ve signed up…so you can subscribe and read in utter privacy. I won’t see you at the grocery store and ask you what you thought about my most recent story. Ha!
Second, you can also see that there’s a lovely section over on the right where you can click on any of my book titles, and the link will take you to Amazon where you can buy a book…at least if you’re in the U.S. If you’re outside the U.S. and wish to purchase one of my books, simply go to your Amazon site, and keyword search my name or the book title you’re interested in.
The best part of having a built-in link to my books, is I no longer need to place a promo for my books at the bottom of every post. Now I can link to my blog in places where “no book promotion” is the required etiquette.
Third, and finally, is something that those of you who follow me on Facebook already know. I want to collaborate with visual artists (pro and amateur alike) here on my blog EVERY SINGLE WEEK! If you're interested in collaborating with me, visit my Collaboration page!

The Longest Night

When I get Amy’s text, I turn my hazards on and pull off the road. Then, I take a shaky breath and reread the message.
It’s been six weeks since Amy moved out, taking the coffee table, the battered chintz love-seat, and our one-eyed cat, Rolf, with her. Had there been warning signs? I’ve asked myself that question a hundred times a day since she left, but if there were signs, I never saw them. Twice, I’ve called her, questions bubbling out of me like air from a drowning woman. Did I do something? Can we fix it? Is there someone else? Can we meet and talk? Maybe have a cup of coffee? Both times she’s skirted my questions, not answering anything. Both times the conversation ended with me sobbing into the phone.
And now, there’s this. A three-sentence text message. Phoebe, it says. I wanted you to hear this from me and not the rumor mill, but it doesn’t change anything between us. My cancer is back. It’s stage IV and the doctors say I have two months.
I exhale until I am dizzy. Until I can’t make out the words on the tiny glowing screen. Until the world goes grey and pixelated like a grainy old black and white. I’ve forgotten how to breath, or else all the oxygen has drained out of my car. My arm moves slowly, laboriously, to the door handle. I grip the handle in slow motion. It takes me a decade to open the door and century to pull my numb body out into the ankle deep snow. I stumble to the edge of the embankment and look down. Down, down, down into the cold darkness. Sixty odd feet below me, I hear the ocean lapping against the rocky shore and I decide I need to be there, beside the ocean, and so I lurch into the dark unknown.
I’m wet and bruised when I reach the beach. My hands sting where I’ve grabbed the spiny stalks of Devil’s Club. Far away, in the back of my brain, I realize that I left my car door ajar. Ding, ding, ding, it sings, faintly, into the night. I walk down the beach. I’ve forgotten that I was on my way to a Solstice bonfire. I’ve forgotten that I left my phone and purse in the car. I’ve forgotten everything except this ferocious grief, wrapping its tentacles around my chest.
At the edge of the beach, I squat and dip my hands in the ocean. I let the frigid salt water cup my hands like a lover. Above, the waxing moon emerges from behind a cloud. I watch the moonlight frolic atop wavelets.
Seventeen years is a long time for two people to be happy together. Maybe too long. Maybe we’d been too happy for too long. Did we throw the Earth’s axis off? Was some vast equation disrupted by our joy? Some enormous scale that could only be brought back into balance through suffering?
I squat there, my hands growing stiff and numb from the ocean’s cold grasp, until the bottle washes ashore a foot from me. I can see that there’s a piece of paper rolled up inside the bottle, brown and aged. My knees creak as I push myself upright. My hips and lower back ache. I reach for the bottle but my hands have forgotten they are alive, forgotten they are servants of my brain. I press hands, as nerveless as wooden blocks, against each other. I try to rub them together, but they’re too clumsy. A thread of panic starts at the base of my spine and rises towards my neck and head. Without functioning hands, I don’t think I can climb back up the embankment, much less turn the key in the ignition of my car. If I can’t warm my hands back up, I’ll die here of hypothermia, on the longest night of the year. The irony of that possibility pleases me. Would Amy be surprised to learn of my death? Would she grieve? For a few moments, I actually consider sitting down and waiting for death, but then I look at the bottle again.
As I child, I yearned for someone, anyone, to see me. I yearned for connection. For love. For magic. I was the kind of child who wrote in her diary every day. The kind of child who met friends in books, who kept half a dozen pen pals, and who talked to wild animals expecting that someday, one would answer. I was the kind of child who wrote messages and put them in bottles, always hoping for a bit of magic. So far, in my fifty-two years, the only messages in bottles that I’ve ever found have been ones that I wrote to myself and tucked into my underwear drawer. So far, the only magic I’ve found has been Amy.
I unzip my coat and stuff my useless hands into my armpits. It’s like putting ice packs under my arms, and for the first time, I begin to shiver. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet and realize that my toes are almost as numb as my hands. A few minutes pass and I stomp and bounce until I’m breathless and my hands feel like they’re on fire. Every nerve aches and burns until I’m tempted to dip my hands back in the ocean to relieve the pain. I reach for the bottle again, but my hands are still clumsy and I know I won’t have the dexterity to remove the cork. I stuff my hands back into my armpits and use the edge of my boot to nudge the bottle, gently, up the beach a few feet, and then recommence my awkward warm-up dance.
It seems to take a long time for warmth to return to my extremities, and I pass the time wishing that Amy were here. Was I ever this cold when Amy was with me? I don’t think I was. Love is like a fire, and her love kept me warm. If she were here, now, we’d be laughing and I’d be warm. We’d be talking about childhood dreams, and we’d be planning to leave bottled notes for each other, floating in the bathtub.
Finally, the pain in my fingers recedes and I reach for the bottle again. I pick it up and examine the cork. It’s wedged far down into the neck of the bottle. If I had my purse, I could use the corkscrew on my pocketknife, the one Amy gave me our third Christmas together, to pull the cork out, but my purse is in the car. I pick up a small stick and push it into the neck, and against the cork. Maybe I can push the cork into the belly of the bottle. The cork doesn’t budge. I push harder. The rolled up paper inside the bottle looks old and brittle, much older than the bottle itself. Again, I push with the stick. Again, the cork refuses to move. Maybe I should give up. I set the bottle back down on the beach. I should go home. I need a hot shower and sleep. I shake my head, irritated. How can I sleep? How will I ever sleep, knowing that Amy is dying? How will I sleep when she is dead?
My teeth are chattering and my hands are getting cold again. I feel like I’m caught in a trap. I cannot go forward, nor can I go back. I start to move my feet again, up and down, but still not going anywhere. I’m trapped. I’m stuck.
Go sideways!
There is a note of command in the tone. As though it’s a separate entity, my brain has come to its own conclusion. I mull it over. How? How do I go sideways?
Seemingly of its own volition, my body bends down, my hand grasps the bottle, I raise it up, up, up…and smash it down onto a sharply angled rock the size of my head.
Shattering glass sounds like shattering ice and I recall the winter Amy and I lived in a float house. Every day that winter, we’d walked the beach, picking up, and tossing back down, sheets of ice left behind by the retreating tide. We spent that season laughing at every crash and tinkle, feeling like vandals, but without the guilt.
I look, wide-eyed, at the jagged edges of the bottle in my hand and shake my head, trying to dislodge the image. I don’t break things. But now I have. And I am shocked. I drop the broken bottle and reach for the paper that has fallen to the rocky beach. I unroll the paper, slow and careful. In the moonlight, I can see that there’s no date and no signature.
You are loved
You are enough
Love fills the universe
Look at the ocean and at the sky, for they love you
Look at the beach and at the plants, for they love you
Breathe love in,
and
Breathe love out

I glance up at the moon, take a deep breath and repeat the last three lines. “Breathe love in, and breathe love out”. Louder, now, I address the silvered waves. “I breathe love in, and I breathe love out.” I exhale, then inhale again, deep and shuddering. “I am loved! I am enough! I breathe love in, and I breath love out!” I shout.
Then, I turn, and make my way back up the embankment to my car.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Gifts







The Gifts


A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-SEVEN DOLLARS. THAT WAS ALL. AND SIXTY DOLLARS of it was in coins. Coins saved a few at a time over the course of the year. Della had saved pocket change, dollar bills left over after grocery shopping, and the single-digit drabs on several gift cards they’d received. She had even resorted to plucking the occasional filthy penny from the ground. All the coupon cutting, scrimping, and weekly trips to the food bank took a toll on Della’s sense of pride, but she never complained aloud. She counted the change again and blinked back hot tears. She would not cry over money, even though it was the day before Christmas and she still hadn’t bought a gift for her husband.
Della glanced around the efficiency apartment she and her husband shared. The carpeting was pumpkin orange and the kitchen appliances a faded avocado. The bathroom faucet dripped and the queen-sized bed in the corner was merely an inflatable camping mattress dolled up with the prettiest collection of blankets and pillows available from the second-hand stores in town. Next to the bed stood a fresh cut Christmas tree all of two feet tall. Della heaved a sigh. Her husband, recently matriculated from graduate school, was Della’s hero. Orphaned at two and raised in a long succession of foster homes, he had no family support and yet got his bachelor’s degree in three years, and then continued on to get his master’s in another two. Now, however, he was paying his dues at the bottom of the office totem pole while also paying almost half his monthly income to student loan debt.
When they’d married, Della had been waiting tables, and between the two of them, they had enough money to pay all their bills, contribute to a retirement account, and still order a pizza once a month. Last year, though, her parents had died in a car crash. The grief and depression that followed had left Della unable to get out of bed for months. She was still struggling, truth be told, and she’d been fired when she’d tried, briefly last summer, to work for the little cafĂ© down the street from their apartment.
Della toyed with the gold nugget that hung from a leather thong around her neck and thought about how kind her husband was, and how much she adored him. Not once, had he been cross with her about getting sick, though he had insisted she start seeing a counselor. Instead of sleeping in on Saturdays, he went with her to the food bank, smiling and greeting the volunteers by name. He hadn’t even complained, last winter, about not having enough money to go skiing during the best snow year of the decade. She knew, though, how much he missed flying down the slopes of Eagle Crest because he had been an avid skier throughout college and just two years ago had splurged and purchased a brand new pair of skis. Those skis were his pride and joy and he still had a photo of them as the screen saver on his home computer, though the skis themselves were tucked away in the closet. He prized those skis as much as she prized the nugget she wore, panned out of a creek by her grandma when she was pregnant with Della’s mom.
Della tugged on her necklace and chewed her bottom lip. Her husband deserved a gift that would make him happy. Something worthy of the love she felt for him. She pulled the leather thong over her head and held her gold nugget in the palm of her hand, weighing it and considering. Gold prices were up and the new owner of the jewelry shop down the road was an old pal of hers from high school. He would give her a fair deal, she was certain. Della took a deep breath and made a decision. With a gleeful yelp, she leapt up. On went her old brown parka. On went her old brown stocking cap. Della’s eyes sparkled, as they hadn’t in months, and she hustled out the door and down the snowy street.
She arrived at the jewelry store flushed with cold and out of breath. “Will you buy this from me?” she’d asked her old friend. He weighed it carefully, looked at it from all angles, checked gold prices on his computer, and entered a few numbers on his adding machine.
“I can give you two hundred dollars, but you shouldn’t sell this. Prices are still going up and someday it’ll be worth far, far more,” he said with quiet certainty.
“Two hundred dollars? Give it to me quick,” Della said, only half joking. She glanced up at the clock, then outside at the waning, grey, daylight.
An hour later, Della felt like a great weight had lifted from her shoulders. She was so light-footed, she nearly floated to her next stop, and then back home. She chopped and stirred a collection of only slightly wilted greens and other vegetables into a bright salad, then layered the ingredients for rice and tuna casserole into their single baking dish. While dinner cooked, she curled her hair, dabbed on a bit of powder blush, added a swipe of lipstick, then pulled on her least faded pair of jeans and a bright red chenille sweater.
At 6 o’clock, the casserole was cooling on the counter and Della sat nearby, waiting for her husband to come in the door. He was never late. Safely tucked in her back pocket was the discounted season pass to Eagle Crest Ski Resort.
At seventeen minutes past the hour, her husband stepped in the door. A tall man with scuffed dress shoes and a puffy winter jacket with a broken zipper, he carried himself with a kind of confidence often seen in men three times his age. Upon seeing Della, he immediately broke into a wide smile and held his arms out for her. The couple hugged as though they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, rather than a matter of hours, and then the man set his wife gently away from him while he stripped out of his wet coat and shoes.
Halfway through dinner, Della’s husband shot her a startled look and set his fork down. “You’re not wearing your gold nugget,” he said.
Della shrugged, playing it cool, but secretly bubbling with joy. “My nugget? I sold it.”
“You what?” Her husband replied with an air of disbelief.
“I sold it. I took it down to the jewelry store and sold it.”
Della watched as her husband glanced around their tiny apartment.
“Don’t look for it, silly,” Della said with tense laugh. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone. It’s Christmas Eve and we’re having a lovely dinner. Don’t fuss over it, please, for it went for you.”
He pushed his plate away and stood, coming around the table, to embrace Della. They stayed that way for several long seconds before he set a small cardboard box next to her plate. Della tugged the envelope from her back pocket and set it in her husband’s hands before eagerly tearing open her gift. Inside the box lay the most beautiful gold chain she had ever seen. It shone, almost, with a light of its own, and the tiny links were each elegantly crafted with a bit of a twist in each one, which made the chain glimmer even more. It was so beautiful that, for a moment, Della considered hanging it, like tinsel, from the tiny Christmas tree. The beauty of the chain would have matched the majesty of her gold nugget.
Della looked up at her husband, who in turn, stared at his season pass with a stunned expression.
“Isn’t it wonderful, darling? You can even go skiing tomorrow! Go pull your skis out of the closet!”
Instead of obeying, Della’s husband settled back down at the table and laid his ski pass carefully to the side of his plate, then turned his eyes to his beloved wife and beamed. “I’ll spend all day with you tomorrow. It’s Christmas. And besides, I’ve sold my skis.”
“Oh, Henry,” Della whispered in sudden understanding.


An homage, of course, to the great O. Henry, who wrote The Gift of the Magi, which this story is based on. May your holidays be joyful and filled with love.

Thank you so much for visiting and I hope you have a marvelous week! 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Kit's Dinner




I’m honored to be illustrating today’s short story with Emily Berg’s beautiful acrylic on canvas of Mt. Roberts. Emily used to live in Juneau and was one of my very favorite co-workers at Big Brothers Big Sisters. While this painting has already found a home, you can own a piece of Emily’s artwork by donating to the BergFaceFund. Emily was recently in a serious bicycle accident and is still healing and raising money to pay the significant medical expenses not covered by her insurance. You can contact Emily on Facebook and you can also see more of her artwork and read her blog on her webpage.  


Kit’s Dinner

I rushed in the door and headed straight for the fridge. I was so hungry my hands were shaking. I hadn’t eaten anything since I’d snagged a handful of trail mix from the break room before starting my shift that morning. It had been a miserable shift, too. Three people called in sick with the flu and Marty, the boss, had thrown a hissy fit when he had to work the floor because we were so short staffed.
Whatever.  I rolled my eyes at the memory of his histrionics. Marty was a moron and a lazy one to boot. He loved to sit in his office all day and watch customers and staff from his window. As far as I could tell, that’s all he usually did, so he probably was kind of pissed off to have to actually do something resembling work, for once.
My shelf in the fridge was bare. I’d left a container of my sister’s homemade chili thawing and I’d been looking forward to it all day. Sue makes terrific chili and we were having one of those cold, clear spells when the Taku winds blast across the ice field, over Mt. Roberts’ snowy peaks, and down onto Juneau and Douglas, rattling windows and blowing away small children and pets that have been allowed to wander around off leash. It was definitely chili weather, but where was my dang chili?
Have you ever had a great roommate? You know, the kind who always pays her rent on time, does her share of the cleaning, and never has boyfriends spend the night? Yeah, Gracie isn’t one of those roommates. I found her note taped to the front of the fridge when I finally gave up on my chili and closed the door.
Kit,
I was starving and there wasn’t anything to eat in the house so I had some of your chili. Tell your sister I want her recipe!
Thanks,
Gracie
Sure enough, the empty container was in the dishwasher. Unrinsed, of course. I rearranged and rinsed a few of the dishes, added the soap, and started the dishwasher. Shoot. I was really looking forward to that chili and I hadn’t been shopping yet this week. What would I eat for dinner?
A quick perusal of my cupboards revealed two cans of sloppy joe sauce, a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, a can of pickled beets, an unopened jar of mint jelly, and a single box of macaroni and cheese. I’d have mac and cheese for dinner. Sure, it wouldn’t be as good as if I actually had milk, but Gracie had half a stick of butter I could finish off. I smiled grimly, planning a little tit for tat.
Running water was my downfall. I was filling up the saucepan and having satisfying fantasies about Gracie longing for buttered popcorn before bed, when my bladder started to spasm. I tossed the macaroni noodles in the water, set the pan on the stove to boil, and headed out of the kitchen at a trot, shedding my winter coat as I went.
“Sahara, Death Valley, Mojave…” I chanted. I was having a lot of these episodes lately. I’d be going about my business as usual when the urgent need to pee would hit me, BOOM! There was no gradual build-up, and the urge was often so strong my bladder actually hurt. “…Kalahari, Gobi…” I panted as I arrived in the bathroom, trying to focus on dry places. I almost made it, but at the very last moment, as I fumbled with the button on my jeans, my bladder gave up the good fight and released a veritable Niagara Falls. Of course, none of it fell in the toilet. I might have shed a few tears while I mopped up floor, stripped out of my soiled clothes, shrugged into my bathrobe, and started the washing machine, but it wasn’t until I heard the sizzle of boiling water hitting a hot stove burner that I started to cuss.
I hit the kitchen at a dead run and whisked the foaming pan of noodles off the stove as the smoke detector went off. Of course, I couldn’t reach the smoke detector. Life as a short gal can be a real pain in the neck. I opened the kitchen window and fanned the screeching alarm with a towel. Then, when the noise finally stopped, I turned to my pan of noodles. The bottom layer of macaroni had scorched to the bottom of the pan and the rest of the noodles were cooked to mush. Nasty, but I’d still eat them.
Now, you’d think a pasta lover like me would have a colander, but unfortunately, I hadn’t gotten around to replacing the plastic one Gracie had melted to the stove top last month. Instead, I drained my noodles the old-fashioned way, holding the pan lid against the lip of the pan while I poured out the water. I blew the billowing steam away from my hand and tipped the pan further. Just outside the open kitchen window, a car alarm went off in the parking lot. I jumped, lost my grip on the lid, and cussed a blue streak as my macaroni noodles fell into the sink.
“Shit, shit, shit, friggen SHIT,” I fumed, and slammed the nearly empty pan down atop the puddle of squishy noodles. I left the mess in the sink and stormed into the living room, flung myself onto the couch, and stared out the window at Mt. Roberts. I could either crack open my can of pickled beets for dinner, or I’d need to get dressed and go to the store. I considered ordering a pizza for about half a minute. The last time I’d done that, they’d royally screwed up my order. “I’d like a supreme without mushrooms,” I’d told the guy who took my order. “I’m allergic to mushrooms so I just want to make sure that it isn’t a problem to order the pizza like this. If the mushrooms even touch the food I’m going to eat, I could swell up like a hot air balloon.” Of course the pizza had arrived with extra mushrooms.
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Outside, the full moon was rising over the mountain and lit up the wind-blown spumes of salt spray dancing across the surface of Gastineau Channel. I’d heard that the wind chill was twenty below today, and I shivered just thinking about venturing back out into the cold night. Maybe groceries could wait until tomorrow, and I could subsist on a can of pickled beets, and an early bedtime. My eyes burned with a few more tears. I was tempted to give in to self-pity and just head straight to bed but the doorbell interrupted my morose contemplation. Ugh. I hauled myself up and to the door.
“Hey Kit, I brought salmon curry, and a tub of chocolate ice cream.”
“Oh my gosh, Vivian!” I threw my arms around my friend and she chuckled. “How did you know I need something to eat?” I shivered and stepped back. “Come inside where it’s warm.”
Vivian raised her eyebrow in that way she has and followed me indoors. I would’ve felt frumpy in my bathrobe, but Vivian’s jeans had holes in both knees, and when she took off her wool coat, I saw that the purple and red paisley shirt she was wearing had a big splotch of dried green paint right down the front. Vivian is beautiful, but she never fusses over her clothes and I love that about her.
I pulled out plates and silverware as Vivian unloaded food from her bag. “What happened there?” she asked, and nodded towards the noodle debacle in the sink.
“Nothing that chocolate ice cream can’t fix,” I replied with a wink. “How did you know that I was in desperate need of food?”
“Remember when you said you’d cut my hair if I cooked you dinner?”
“Oh no! Is that tonight? Viv, I’m so sorry I completely blitzed it out. Am I a rotten friend? Let me see what you’ve got,” I said, and gestured at her hair.
“Silly question, Kit, of course you’re not.” Vivian pulled her purple bandanna off and removed the rubber band that held her red hair back in a low ponytail. “We don’t have to do my hair tonight, though, if you’ve had a crappy day.”
“Just feed me curry and chocolate ice cream and I’ll do anything for you,” I replied, grinning. “My crappy day just took a turn for the better.”